HAVERHILL — Businesses in Bradford’s normally bustling Central Square weathered a summer of detours, traffic jams, gutted sidewalks and dust — all of which drove customers away.
But now that the area is repaved, those merchants said they anticipate the return of customers who avoided the state’s massive reconstruction of Route 125 in and near the square in recent months.
Some work remains to be done along this stretch of Route 125, or South Main Street, which is dotted with businesses. But new sidewalks have been installed, providing shoppers with better access to restaurants, retail shops and other businesses.
“Now that the construction is winding down, it would be nice if people came back,” said Peter Carbone, co-owner of EZ-Way Cleaners at 139 S. Main St. “People have been avoiding Bradford Square and have been finding alternative routes all summer, so they don’t have to run into construction delays.”
Carbone said the delays are over, traffic is flowing smoothly, and life in Central Square is returning to normal. But concerns still linger as to whether the elimination of some on-street parking will cause additional pain to businesses.
“It appears that most of the construction is done, with still some smaller issues to be addressed,” Carbone said.
This week, construction is taking place around the perimeter of Bradford Common and in the Zion Bible College area, as well as a stretch of Salem Street between the common and the entrance to Bradford Elementary School.
State Transportation Department spokesman Michael Verseckes said the project is nearly 80 percent complete and is scheduled to be completed by mid-June of next year. The project was originally expected to cost $14.6 million, however, because of a slowdown in the economy and with more firms bidding on construction jobs, the actual cost has been driven down to $13.1 million, he said.
Base and binder coats were laid down along South Main Street, and concrete sidewalks and driveway aprons are roughly 75 percent complete, Verseckes said. Some loam and seed has been put down in certain areas, and this will continue until the snow falls. A stretch of Salem Street that is under construction this week will be topped and striped by Friday or Saturday, he said.
Deputy Police Chief Donald Thompson said there were several detours and traffic delays this summer while workers were digging up the road in the Central Square area, but the problems have since eased.
“The traffic does appear to be moving better than it was,” Thompson said.
In August, several Central Square merchants attended a City Council meeting and said business was down 40 to 50 percent while the state was tearing up the road to install manholes and drainage lines and redesign the square. Some of the business owners who attended the meeting urged councilors to do whatever they could to save or replace parking spaces the state planned to eliminate. They also criticized the execution of the project and the city for not involving local business owners in planning the work.
Greg Foucault of Greg Foucault Appliances, 113 S. Main St., in the heart of the square, said the state tax holiday on Aug. 11 and Aug. 12 should have been one of his busiest weekends of the year.
“It was the worst tax holiday weekend ever and it ended up being just a littler better than a normal Saturday,” Foucault said yesterday. “In the past, we’ve done a month’s worth of sales that weekend. People usually drop in during that whole week before to look and to pre-buy, but because they couldn’t get here, they didn’t come in.”
Foucault offers parking behind his building, as do several neighboring businesses, but he said there were 12 days this summer when detours prevented drivers from reaching the lot.
“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel and we are hopeful,” he said. “But as soon as the state puts up no-parking signs, people are going to just drive by.
“Things are looking better,” he said. “On Saturday, people were parking from the corner to our store. They were going into the Village (Square) Restaurant and, as they pass by my store, they might look into my windows. When the road was closed, they didn’t eat there and they didn’t come in.”
He said the Chinese restaurant next to his store has experienced a drop in business as well.
“It’s not as bad at night, but his numbers are off,” Foucault said about the restaurant located in the building he owns.
“I like my city, but I think they just didn’t look at the plan,” Foucault said. “By far, the loss of parking spaces is the hardest thing. People want to park close.”