U.S. malls recovering from Covid, but Destiny USA still has symptoms, report says

Syracuse, N.Y. — Shopping malls are showing a “marked and impressive recovery” from the major blow they suffered from the coronavirus pandemic last year, but Destiny USA in Syracuse, New York’s largest mall, is not among them, according to a new report.

July marked the first month of mall visits exceeding pre-Covid, 2019 figures, Placer.ai said in its report, “Mall Deep Dive.” Visits to malls were up 0.7% in July 2021 compared with the same month in 2019, putting the shopping mall foot traffic recovery “in line with the recovery of other Covid-hit industries,” the retail analytics firm said.

But traffic remains down at six of the nation’s six leading malls, including Destiny. And the Syracuse mall had the biggest decline with a 17.6% drop in visitors in the second quarter of 2021 compared with the same period in 2019, according to the report.

“Comparing foot traffic in leading malls during the second quarter of 2021 to the second quarter of 2019 shows that some locations are clearly recovering faster than others,” the company said.

The other five malls cited were King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania, down 3.4%; the Galleria in Texas, down 8.8%; the nation’s largest mall, the Mall of America in Minnesota, down 9.8%; Del Amo Fashion Center in California, down 16.4%; and Aventura Mall in Florida, down 16.8%.

Pyramid Management Group, which owns Destiny, has not responded to a request from The Post-Standard | syracuse.com for comment.

Destiny was forced to temporarily close in March 2020 when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all malls in the state to shut down to limit the spread of Covid, the highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Destiny was allowed to reopen in July 2020 after a 15-week shutdown. However, the mall suffered added blows late in the year when two big anchors, J.C. Penney and Lord & Taylor, closed their stores. And it took an additional hit early in 2021 when major electronics retailer Best Buy left the mall.

In addition, retailers at Destiny have historically relied on Canadian visitors for up to 20% of their sales. But those sales dropped to zero after the U.S. closed its land border with Canada to non-essential travel such as tourism during the pandemic. The ban has yet to be lifted.

Syracuse-based Pyramid is staggering under a $715 million debt load on the mall. It is seeking a reduction in the debt from its bondholders.

The Placer.ai report noted that indoor malls, with their huge enclosed spaces conducive to spreading airborne viruses, were hit especially hard during the pandemic. But many are seeing visitors return as shoppers become more comfortable going back out in public, it said.

“Many thought that the pandemic would accelerate the downfall of malls, a process that seemed already well underway with the retail apocalypse of recent years,” the company said. “But while malls’ capacity to double as social hubs might have hurt them at the height of the pandemic, it has also been one of their sources of strength during the recovery period.”

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