Shoppers have finally put some of their hesitations from COVID-19 behind them, and in some cases, foot traffic has finally returned to shopping malls and plazas at a level that it last saw before the pandemic.

Kimco Realty, which operates more than 400 shopping centers around the United States, reported strong second-quarter earnings this week, with funds from operations of 34 cents per share and revenue of $289 million—better than estimated. In an interview with CNBC, Kimco CEO Conor Flynn accounted for the earnings as part of the services their centers offered and increased foot traffic.

“Traffic is back to 2019 levels, and we have a real playbook now that we can follow thanks to all the lessons learned through the pandemic,” Flynn said. “We launched curbside pickup and... the last-mile shopping center typically that we own is grocery anchored, and it gives the consumer the way that they want to shop, the optionality that I think is so important to consumers today.”

Tenants in some of the centers helped matters, with stores such as T.J. Maxx, Burlington and Ross helping to drive some of that traffic, as has the innovation that the centers have utilized.

Flynn also noted that while e-commerce has continued to rise, and certainly increased exponentially during the pandemic, evolving his centers and offering more COVID-inspired services like in-store and curbside pickup is helping centers thrive, and likely contributed to the increased foot traffic.

“All of a sudden, this last-mile retail has become more valuable to the retailer as well as the consumer,” he said. “We really saw a huge uptick in our occupancy primarily driven by anchors.”

Trends suggest that Kimco centers weren’t necessarily the only ones to benefit, as consumer confidence has continued to grow. However, the spread of the Delta Variant and reimposed suggestion of mask wearing indoors by both those who are vaccinated and those who aren’t could soon cast a pall on the economic growth that has been enjoyed. While shutdowns aren’t necessarily happening, they could be put back on the table if cases continue to increase exponentially.

Kimco Realty A sign for Kimco Realty in Daly City, California is pictured on Nov. 3, 2017. Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images