AYER -- On a snowy Tuesday morning, Ayer artist Harding Bush teaches a small class how to paint trees at his new store, Watercolors. In April, Bush opened his store on Main Street to a receptive crowd.
"We teach and we sell art, and it's been going very well," he said.
Despite a tough economy, local stores along Ayer's Main Street are finishing a strong business year as they prepare for a busy holiday season.
The street has seen a slight revival since spring, when three new shops opened their doors. Visitors can receive massages at Owen Jacobs Salon, sign up for painting lessons with Bush, or stop for surf and turf at Markoh's on Main.
"Beautiful downtown Ayer is actually doing very well," Bush said. "We have new restaurants, we have a lot more traffic. The Halloween festival was amazing -- we had 380 kids come through at Halloween."
For Owen Jacobs Salon down the street, business has also been thriving.
"It's been really successful since we opened in May," said owner Sara Stancombe. "Our open house was in September, it was a great success, so it's been really good."
The salon complements its hair and manicure services with facials and massages, but Stancombe said she hopes to provide wedding services by spring.
Markoh's On Main, the street's newest dining addition, received customers before owner Mark diCiccio could even pull the paper off its windows.
"Once we opened it, it's just been great since," said diCiccio, who also owns Lucia's Tavola. "We don't have a sign-up yet, but we're busy on the weekends."
Since its opening about two years ago, Lucia's has also established itself as a fine dining restaurant with a potential to draw in a new kind of crowd.
Main Street's older businesses have shuffled around, adapting to the changing demographic of nearby Fort Devens.
Century Carpet moved to its location at 21 Main St. a little over a year ago, although it used to occupy the space where Markoh's now sits. Owner Jean Coutu said his business has been extremely busy this year, and Main Street has done a lot better than anybody thought it would.
"I've noticed a change on Main Street in general, and I've noticed a change in the amount of business that seems to be coming to Main Street -- the traffic, things like that," he said. "Things are happening for the better."
Coutu said a different, more affluent crowd has come to town since Devens turned into a more residential area.
"Everybody thought Ayer would shrivel up and die when the military left, and it's been the total opposite," he said. "It took a while to bring in some new people, but now that they're here, I don't see anybody shriveling up and moving away."
Business is not as bright at Pampered Pets, which offers grooming and pet-sitting. But owner Cheryl Wilber is finding ways around the dip in sales with a new line of homemade natural dog treats.
"That actually is doing very well," Wilber said. "People still feed their dog, still give their dogs treats, even if they don't want to get them groomed as often."
Wilber bakes the chicken, beef and turkey treats in her oven every day to keep up with demand. She said she would like to get the packaging for the product, named after her dog, within three months.
The scene is still changing on Main Street, with The Natural Café & Market closing its doors in search of a new location. Meanwhile, the closed Irish pub J. P. O'Hanlon's leaves empty space. For Main Street, the shuffling never stops.
At Flowers by Stella, designer Patricia St. Germain is busy preparing cedar and pine arrangements for the holidays. She said business has been better since the store moved from Devens two years ago.
"It's a nice shop and we have regulars that come here, and if people keep coming here, we'll be fine," she said.
St. Germain said she is happy that downtown Ayer is flourishing with new businesses.
"We all seem to give business to each other here in town because that's how we look at it," she said. "You take care of your town."