Independent restaurants in central New York are hoping to fight what they call an uneven playing field when it comes to Destiny USA. Many restaurants say they’ve lost business since the mega-mall expanded a few years ago with the help of a tax deal with the city of Syracuse.
Denis Sick, of Mohegan Manor in Baldwinsville, has seen business fall 30 to 40 percent since December a year ago, and puts the blame squarely on competition from Destiny’s chain restaurants.
“It’s very obvious," Sick said. "I can see from Facebook, my once-a-monthers, every time a new restaurant opens each month, the once-a-monthers go to the new restaurants. My customers who were four times a month are now two or three times a month.”
Sick and other restaurateurs gathered at a meeting to discuss the issue, saying it’s not the competition that bothers them, but the fact that these restaurants are in a mall built on the back of tax breaks no one else gets.
While they can’t do anything about the past, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, who has opposed deals that have eliminated Destiny’s property taxes for 45 years, says they can fight the latest Destiny tax break proposal that’s in front of the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency.
"Democracy does work," Miner said. "If you call your elected officials and say you can’t do this again, or it didn’t work or we’ve been wronged, it won’t happen again. If you’re silent and don’t do anything, we’ll just continue to make the same mistakes.”
Miner suggested that independent businesses can’t stay silent, in light of a new request for tax breaks to build a hotel.
“If you express your opinion, that’s the way to have the system work," Miner explained. "Does it always work, and do you always get what you want? Obviously not. But the worst possible thing that can happen is for all of us to be collectively silent and then have something happen, and we say, geez, that’s something that shouldn’t have happened.”
In the end, these independent restaurants may end up forming some kind of restaurant association to get the word out about their situation.
Al Barbagallo, of Barbagallo’s restaurant in East Syracuse, says diners need to know what happens if they choose chains over locally operated eateries.
"They have to consider us, or we’ll be gone," he said. "We’ll be a thing of the past.”
Barbagallo says diners need to consider how necessary these local eateries are when considering where to go have dinner.
“When they want donations for fundraisers, they don’t go to the big guys, they come to us," Barbagallo explained. "We’re the ones who support the community. We’re the ones that they have fundraisers at my restaurant. We’re the backbone of the community.”