Study: Denver's Retail Foot Traffic Comeback Second-Highest in U.S.

Scenes like this one have become much more common of late.
Westword photo
Scenes like this one have become much more common of late.
Like most businesses across the country, retail outlets in Denver have suffered greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic. But a new study offers reasons for optimism among business owners: Since the start of the year, foot traffic to retail, restaurants and entertainment venues in the Mile High City has increased at the second-fastest pace of any major metro area in the United States.

This conclusion comes from data research firm Zenreach, which found foot traffic and in-store visits generally on the upswing in the country's largest metropolitan statistical areas: a 44 percent bump nationwide since January 1, with 6 percent of that taking place in the past month.

But Denver did more than three times better than the national average, falling behind only San Diego when it came to the biggest foot-traffic improvement.

Here are the top-ten finishers, accompanied by their percentage gain since the start of 2021:
1. San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad, CA
172.68 percent

2. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO
134.62 percent

3. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
123.97 percent

4. Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI
120.62 percent

5. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA
97.28 percent

6. San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA
94.11 percent

7. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI
89.96 percent

8. New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
82.85 percent

9. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH
77.06 percent

10. Sacramento-Roseville-Folsom, CA
70.23 percent
According to Megan Wintersteen, Zenreach's vice president of marketing, Denver and the other cities with the biggest foot-traffic increases took the novel coronavirus much more seriously than did many places around the country.

"We attribute the explosive growth in certain markets mostly to the level of restrictions and limitations implemented in those regions during the pandemic," she explains. "You'll see that regions in California, plus places like Chicago and New York, all are seeing above-average growth numbers when compared to states like Texas, Arizona and Florida, and that was largely due to the amount of restrictions."

She adds: "Weather has naturally played a role in this, as well, in markets that see colder winters, as consumers start to venture out more now that the weather is more mild."

Do Zenreach researchers see the numbers in Denver continuing to build?

"Yes, we do," Wintersteen replies. "One of the trends we've noticed in the data is that the lifting of the mask mandate has a sizable impact on the lift in foot traffic. Considering that Denver only recently lifted the mask mandate, we anticipate this growth to continue to be significant, especially with warmer weather over the next few months."

There are plenty of attractions to lure Denver residents from their homes over the next few months, including the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, scheduled for Tuesday, July 13. But Wintersteen maintains that "bringing in major events can really go both ways. It can help in the sense that it's something to look forward to that might make people who were sitting on the fence venture out. Or it could lead locals to be more cautious as they work to avoid larger crowds and the tourism that those kinds of events attract."

Still, she concludes, as long as people in Denver "continue to see rising vaccination rates and declining infection rates, I think we'll continue to see this type of growth well into summer."