Christmas is coming. The impending holiday shopping season has visions of profits dancing in the heads of retailers. But those in downtown Andover may find nothing but coal in their stockings when the season is done.

Some retailers downtown complain that the Main Street construction project has made it difficult for customers to get to their stores.

"This is the time of year when small businesses make their money, and it's not happening," Laura Pagley, manager of the Strawberry Tree gift shop, told reporter Brian Messenger. "They're going to put a lot of stores out of business, there's no question about it. If you're not having a lot of people walking by, you're not getting the business."

The purpose of the $4 million redesign of the Main Street and Elm Square is to improve the downtown business district. But there's little benefit in an improvement project that drives downtown stores out of business.

The duration of the construction project is frustrating both business owners and residents. Begun in April, the work is still less than three-quarters complete. The maze of orange road cones and construction equipment has some avoiding the downtown altogether.

"I just go around it," Park Street resident Campbell Stras told Messenger. "I don't even attempt anymore."

Something has to give.

Perhaps Town Planner Lisa Schwarz can work with the construction company to build some flexibility into the work schedule, something that will give businesses at least a chance of getting shoppers into their stores during the holiday season. Given the extent of the project, that's something that should have been planned for at the outset.

With the recession dampening holiday spirits, this year will be a tough one for retailers everywhere. That's a tough enough challenge for Andover retailers to overcome without having to deal with the inability simply to get customers to their front doors.

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