The recession may have ended -- according to economists, anyway -- but in their crystal balls, area retailers are viewing the coming holiday season with caution.

Holiday sales hopefully will be better than last year, when the numbers declined from 2007, said Kara Telep, assistant manager for Simply Baby and Kids, a children's furniture store in Monroe since 1992.

"I think people are looking forward to getting some good deals and getting out there to do some shopping," said Telep, adding that giving some of the store's floor space this summer to Young America by Stanley Furniture has increased traffic. "Things aren't as great as they used to be, but we're trying to stay positive."

Others see a continuing pullback among holiday shoppers.

"It's going to be less than last year because you've got higher unemployment," said John Deorio, who has owned Sassafras, a gift and home decor shop on Norwalk's Washington Street, for the past 25 years. The nation's unemployment rate has risen from 6.8 percent to 10.2 percent in the past 12 months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"Consumers aren't really feeling merry and bright," Deorio said.

His busiest days for holiday shoppers should be the two weekends after Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving when holiday shopping traditionally hits high gear -- but patrons probably will spend with caution, Deorio said.

"People will be filling in their shopping and checking off their lists," he said. "There's some optimism, but people will be watching their pennies."

Black Friday, which historically is the busiest holiday shopping day, is only the busiest day for consumer electronics, said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a New Canaan-based marketing consultancy focused on the retail industry.

"Overall, it's usually just the third-biggest day because the busiest day is usually the Saturday before Christmas," he said, adding that the Saturday two weeks before the holiday can sometimes be busier. "Dec. 26 can also be very big."

Customer Growth Partners expects a 2.4 percent increase in year-over-year holiday sales because, in addition to gains in the stock market and gross domestic product, consumers are feeling more confident about the economy, Johnson said.

"This is not going to be a very strong year, but compared to last year, it's going to be a little better because people are in a mood to spend," he said.

Customer Growth Partners' forecast could get dashed, however, if the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Dec. 3 reports an increase in the nation's unemployment, Johnson said.

"That'll put a real damper on holiday sales," he said, adding that Customer Growth Partners' sales estimate is more than the consensus opinion. "If (unemployment) gets toward 11 percent, we think that'll be a real problem."

Holiday retail industry sales, which occur in November and December, are expected to decline 1 percent compared with the 2008 holiday season, which dipped 2.8 percent from 2007, according to Archstone Consulting Inc., a Stamford-based management strategy and operations consultancy. This will represent the first back-to-back decline in holiday retail sales, according to the U.S. census data for retail sales, and is a somber reflection of continued challenging economic times, Archstone stated.

"While the economy is slowly emerging from this terrible recession, the confluence of tightening credit for many retailers and consumers, higher unemployment and continued financial uncertainty in terms of jobs and income will bring caution to the consumer and lower holiday sales," Todd Lavieri, Archstone's chief executive officer, said in a statement. "With seven million fewer people employed in the U.S. this holiday season, compared to 2008, many consumers will remain under considerable financial stress and will stay frugal."

This year's holiday sales are expected to resemble last year's numbers because consumers still are reluctant to spend given the slow economy, said Tim Phelan, president of the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association in Hartford.

"Even though we've been told we are out of the recession, people have not felt that yet and are still holding back on their spending," he said, adding that the state's retail association is tracking the National Retail Federation's projections. "We think this is the year where consumers are going to be selectively spending."

Holiday sales at his clothing store may be affected by apprehension from his wealthy customers, said Naresh Mansukhani, the owner of Fairfield Clothiers in Fairfield for the past 13 years.

"Most of them are concerned because they're not certain how much they are going to get taxed," said Mansukhani, whose industry has declined 30 percent during the recession. "I think the bottom is in, and it can get only get better from here."

Bedford Jewelers in Stamford is keeping low inventory and prices as it readies for holiday shoppers, said Ruth Weinroth Adatto, who co-owns the shop with her brother, Larry Weinroth.

"We're not expecting a huge difference from last year, but we hope it'll be better next year," she said. "There has been better economic news and that makes a difference because people are influenced by what they hear."