The University of Colorado Book Store is stocked with gear that says "CU Mom." Local hotels are booked. And good luck getting a reservation at an upscale Boulder restaurant after 5 p.m.

Must be Family Weekend.

This year's event, which starts Friday and ends Sunday, is expected to draw nearly 4,600 visitors, CU officials said.

That many out-of-towners mean big bucks for area hotels, restaurants and shops.

"Anecdotally, a lot of retailers consider it to be one of their best weekends of the year," said Sean Maher, executive director of Downtown Boulder Inc., a nonprofit organization that promotes the downtown area. "Parents, especially CU parents, tend to spend a lot of money."

Clerks at several Boulder hotels said they've been booked for months. The Boulder Outlook Hotel and Suites on 28th Street has been sold out for a month-and-a-half, said sales manager Sue Ozburn.

The Hotel Boulderado filled up even quicker; Beverly Silva, director of sales and marketing, said the hotel has been booked since mid-May. In past years, she said, the rooms sold out a year in advance.

"It's a great boost for our local economy," Silva said of Family Weekend.

And while Silva said one wildly successful weekend can't make up for the sagging economic times of the past year, "it gives some encouragement and brings enthusiasm. People are happy."

Local restaurants also are expecting a boost, owners said. The upscale Flagstaff House Restaurant on Flagstaff Road is almost completely booked for Friday and Saturday, said host Carolyn Brookins.

CHECK IT

Learn more about the University of Colorado's Family Weekend at colorado.edu/familyweekend.

"We just prepare for a really busy weekend," she said. "We have almost everybody working."

Pasta Jay's on Pearl Street began bracing for crowds as early as Thursday night.

"We're ready for a little extra pop," said owner Jay Elowski. "They'll be in full force (today)."

CU starts publicizing Family Weekend at freshman orientation in June, said George Ballinger, director of CU's Office of Parent Relations, which organizes the event. That gives parents several months to make travel and lodging arrangements, and to register for Family Weekend events, he said.

This year's events -- which include a welcome luncheon, tours of Boulder and talks on subjects such as how to support your student's academic success -- are sold out, Ballinger said. In addition, CU sold 5,300 Family Weekend tickets to the CU vs. Kansas football game on Saturday night.

The game always is a big draw, Ballinger said. On surveys sent to parents after the weekend, Ballinger said the top two reasons for attending are always football and visiting their kids.

"(It's) an opportunity for parents to come out and spend some quality time with their students," he said. "This is about the time of year that the students, especially the freshmen, start getting a little homesick.

"Inevitably, a lot of academic stresses start stepping up because papers are due and midterms are just around the corner and it's a great time for parents to check in. So that's a real focus."

Alicia Wallace contributed to this story.