Written by Kelcey McClung, Denver Business Journal

When it comes to retail, Denver is leading the pack.

The city’s post-recession retail market has outperformed the similar peer cities of Seattle, Austin, San Diego, Phoenix and Las Vegas, according to recent CBREresearch.

“In a nutshell, Denver is an excellent market for retailers to expand and thrive,” said Justin Kliewer, vice president with CBRE’s retail services in Denver. “In terms of demographics, it’s a gold mine.”

Of the peer cities the data examined, Kliewer said Denver has a better makeup in terms of population growth, median income and age of population. The city also has had moderate rent growth, but strong absorption and construction activity, according to the study.

“Our vacancy rate is lower than it was in 2000, even though we have twice as much retail inventory,” Kliewer said.

The offerings of experiential retail, in places like Stanley Marketplace and Dairy Block, cater to the younger demographic, offering consumers a hands-on experience they can’t get on the internet.

This immersion evolves quicker, allows more options in a smaller area and gives people the opportunity to explore, Kliewer said.

Tom Martin, manager of Dairy Block, agrees with that placemaking evolution — that a consumer goes to shop for one thing, but realizes the area has much more to offer. There’s more of an incentive to stay longer and shop more.

“Look across the country; retail that’s doing well is the retail that’s about the experience,” Martin said.

Martin spoke of retail places with uncommon dining options, shops and hotel space. Some of the newest retailers in the area are Free Market, Berkeley Supply, Will Leather Goods and the Eagle Company. They are flanked by food and drink options like Run for the Roses, The Milk Market and Kachina Cantina, along with The Maven hotel.

Putting those smaller scale shops in a place that acts almost like a showroom, and combining that with an activated alley, has brought a lot of foot traffic to Dairy Block, Martin said. The $1 million worth of local art is another attraction.

“We’ll never be stagnant; we’ll always be evolving and bringing new experiences,” Martin said.

Essentially, retailers are creating places where consumers want to hang out and spend time. And that’s not just in the heart of the city.

Kliewer noted that a particularly interesting trend is the urbanization of the suburbs — walkable, mixed-use projects outside the urban core that feature chef-concept restaurants, dog-friendly breweries and boutique fitness centers.

Places like The Yard in Lone Tree and Olde Town Arvada have done this well, he said. They feature cutting-edge concepts one wouldn’t typically expect in suburban areas.

Regarding situations like Toys R Us, big box retail still has a place in the new age. It just might look different.

“[Toys R Us] stores have good real estate,” he said, in terms of visibility and location.

In March, the Denver Business Journal reported what some of those old locations might become. Like JLL’s vice president of retail, Matt Writt, Kliewer said fitness, entertainment and grocery retailers are likely candidates to take that space.

Overall, retailers follow consumers – and many consumers are moving to Colorado for the attractive lifestyle, healthy economy and robust job market, Kliewer said.

“I don’t see any end in sight with growing and attracting retailers to Colorado.”