When Brad Ryder first opened Epic Sports in 1997, he wasn’t thinking in terms of decades — more like months or even weeks, given the precarious nature of small businesses in downtown Bangor in the 1990s.
But 25 years after his downtown Bangor sports and outdoor equipment and apparel store opened, Ryder is ready to move on. Epic Sports, located at 6 Central St., will have its last day of business sometime in late September or early October.
Ryder, 69, plans to retire to spend more time doing the things he loves — namely, spending time with family and kayaking and canoeing on Maine’s waters. He’d been contemplating either closing the business or selling it for several years, but a health scare in the spring of this year sped up the timeline.
“It really woke me up to the fact that I’m not getting any younger, so it pushed the timeline up a few years,” Ryder said. “It was not an easy decision at all. We have enjoyed all 25 years here. Retail is in my blood. But I really want to enjoy some time off, and this is the best way to do it.”
The downtown Bangor where Ryder opened Epic Sports was dramatically different from the one residents and visitors see today.
“When we moved into this location everything was dark and boarded up. There were more empty storefronts than full,” Ryder said. “It’s been really gratifying to be part of that renaissance. There are a lot of exciting businesses downtown now, and people living downtown. It has been exciting to see that activity start to return.”
Syracuse, New York, native Ryder and his wife, Lynda, met in the 1970s when they were both students at what was then Husson College in Bangor. They went on to have two children, and Ryder went on to work in retail, for both WoolCo at the Airport Mall and for Wellby Super Drug, a northern New England pharmacy chain. After Wellby Drug was sold to Rite Aid in the early 1990s, Ryder decided to strike out on his own and start his own business.
Though much has changed since the 1990s — from the rise of online shopping presenting a challenge to brick and mortar retailers, to a now-booming outdoors economy in Maine — Ryder said that some of the fundamentals of running a small retail business have stayed the same.
“There’s a lot of opportunity to find your niche. You still have to be willing to put in a lot of hours, and have the fire in the belly to be successful,” he said.
The building at 6 Central St. is jointly owned by the city of Bangor and the University of Maine System, with the city owning the portion that Epic Sports is in and the two levels below it, and the system owning the rest, which the two entities run jointly as a condo association. The system-owned part of the building has been up for sale for several years, after the system offices moved out in 2015.
Bangor’s director of community and economic development, Tanya Emery, said that they are actively courting new tenants for the building, though she said there’s nothing set in stone yet.
Epic Sports is running a closing sale from now until their last day in the fall. Ryder said that while he’s looking forward to leisure time, he’ll miss the people the most.
“Our customers are why we’ve made it 25 years. And when I think about the people that have worked for us over the years, it’s pretty incredible,” Ryder said. “I think we’re going out on a high note.”