All signs are pointing to strong Black Friday crowds at Denver-area shopping centers, and to a robust holiday shopping season, according to mall officials and consumer studies.

“We expect to be very busy and have a successful holiday season,” said Jeramy Burkinshaw, general manager of the Cherry Creek Shopping Center. “All the indicators up to this point show a busy holiday season and that retailers are going to perform well.”

Several officials agreed that the pandemic wiped out the frenzied Black Fridays, marked by early morning lines for sales on big-ticket items like televisions. But crowds are expected to be robust, even better than 2019.

“Eighteen months after the onset of COVID-19, retail landlords are reporting significant recovery in foot traffic,” according to the CBRE U.S. Retail Holiday Trends Guide 2021. “Data analytics provider Placer.ai reports that foot traffic has increased by 0.7% in malls and by 2% in open-air centers from 2019 levels.”

Most Denver area shopping centers will have special hours on Black Friday, with Cherry Creek opening at 8 a.m., Town Center at Aurora at 7 a.m., Park Meadows at 9 a.m. and the Outlets at Castle Rock at 6 a.m.

Town Center at Aurora General Manager Joel Boyd agreed foot traffic has been better than 2019, and “people are excited about getting out.”

The mall is averaging about 40,000 customers a week, more than double the levels it saw in 2019.

Burkinshaw said Cherry Creek expects to see traffic numbers elevated from 2019 as well, but would not provide specifics.

“No. 1, people want to get out of the house,” Boyd said. “Nothing can replace holding a product, the emotion of finding the right gift for your loved one — to physically be there and make the transaction and not have to wait for it in the mail.”

Burkinshaw said the trend in 2021 has been shopping early, given all the supply chain issues.

2021 holiday events in and around the Denver area

“Right now, all our merchants are well stocked. I looked at inventory levels and everyone appears to be well stocked,” he said. “But we are seeing the trend of holiday shopping earlier than previous years.”

An October study by the National Retail Federation showed “nearly half” of consumers “intended to start their holiday shopping before November — a 10-year high,” according to the CBRE report.

“We’ve seen a real consistent pattern with our traffic,” Boyd said.

Consumers are expected to spend an average of nearly $1,000 during this year's holiday shopping season on gifts and other items for family members and themselves — roughly the same as last year, though down about $50 from the pre-pandemic high in 2019, according to the federation study.

“Various sources forecast total holiday sales to increase between 7% and 10.5% this year,” the CBRE report states. “Based on U.S. Census Bureau data and the range of estimates, CBRE anticipates an increase of 8.4% from last year to more than $800 billion. Brick-and-mortar retail sales, which were essentially flat last year due to COVID concerns, are expected to rise by 8%, a 10-year high, as shoppers return to stores.”

Cherry Creek’s new retailers should keep traffic steady, along with staples like Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, Burkinshaw said. In the last three months, it has also added Golden Goose, Hollister, Gilly Hicks, Vince, Quinti, Allbirds, Banana Republic (reopened), Impossible Kicks, Psycho Bunny and Viori.

Cherry Creek and Town Center will comply with the recently imposed mask mandates from local health departments.

“We’re not looking for businesses to enforce that in a heavy-handed way, but we’re asking for compliance,” said Burkinshaw.

“Our customers and our employees, our tenants inside the mall, they all respect any mandates from Tri-County Health,” Boyd said. “We follow those guidelines, but it's not our job to enforce those. The public in our community does a great job of being respectful of one another.”