PEPPERELL -- With spring finally here, business is beginning to pick up at many Main Street establishments. But although warm weather brings increased walk-in traffic, the lack of available parking and continued national and statewide economic struggles pose challenges to some local businesses.
Milton Tzitzenikos, who has owned Mel's Barber Shop since 1950, said parking downtown is the biggest issue, especially because bike trail users take away many of the available parking spots from potential Main Street customers.
"We don't really have too many walk-ins," said Tzitzenikos, who is the only Main Street vendor to have a parking lot behind the building. "The majority of our customers are regulars, whether they walk, bike or drive to get here."
He suggested installing parking meters so that the spots on Main Street are not such an easy place to park for bike path riders.
For others like Charlotte Chabot, owner of Charlotte's Cozy Kitchen, the national economic struggles have been felt strongly in Pepperell.
"Years ago on a Sunday morning, there was always a line out the door," Chabot said. "The last four or five years have been hard."
She said she has not seen much of an economic rebound in recent months, and that changes in the state unemployment rate usually have little to do with the reality in Pepperell.
Chabot agrees that the lack of parking poses a problem by deterring customers who aren't actively seeking out any of the local shops.
"People just keep going if there's no place to park," she said. "That's just the way it's always been."
For Chabot, however, the bike trail provides more help than harm, as much of her walk-in business comes from cyclists on warm days.
"We've been pretty good all year, but once the bike trail opens up and the weather gets better, we'll be real good," she said.
The bike trail has helped many of the restaurants on Main Street during warmer months, according to Mike Leary, owner of the Pepperell Spa Café.
"It's almost turning into a seasonal business," Leary said. "We get much more foot traffic in summer and spring. The bike traffic is great for business because in the summer bikers will stop for lunch."
Just a few doors down, a sign outside of Ray's Package Store encourages residents to "shop local," a sentiment echoed by many of the Main Street business owners.
"I see no sense in supporting the state up north," said Ray's Package Store clerk Jack Caten. "But I'm always kind of amazed. We have a pretty steady volume for a store of this size."
Caten said for the most part, people would rather stay in town than drive too far, and that regular customers make up a large part of the store's clientele.
Caten agrees that parking is an issue on Main Street, but describes this as simply a "fact of life."