A sale sign fills a window of Epic Sports in Bangor on Sept. 8, just two days before the store is scheduled to close.  Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

When you love a city or town, it’s always sad to see favorite stores or restaurants close, whatever the reason. But nothing has hit me quite so hard as seeing Epic Sports in Bangor prepare to close its doors this Saturday.

I know I’m not alone in my love for the family-owned outdoor sports store. For the past 25 years, it has filled a big space in the downtown community —  both literally and figuratively. With its big glass windows on the corner of Central and Hammond streets, it has been a place for people to dream and prepare for their next big adventures.

For me, Epic Sports is more than just a store. It’s a place that helped me find an integral piece of myself.

Back in college, I applied there for a part-time job. And even though I showed up to the interview wearing a very non-outdoorsy polka-dotted skirt, the owner, Brad Ryder, took a chance on me. I had a lot to learn.

During the few years that I worked there, my enthusiasm for outdoor activities grew. It just sort of seeped into my bones.

Perhaps it was inevitable. Outdoor gear and clothing surrounded me, day in and day out. As a retail employee, it was my job to know about all of the products. That way, I could help anyone who walked through the door, whether it was someone looking to snowshoe for the first time or gear up to hike the Appalachian Trail.

During that time, I became particularly enthusiastic about fitting people into the right hiking boots and running sneakers. There’s something especially satisfying about pairing someone with the right shoes.

Epic employees received a steep in-store discount, and I can never resist a good deal. Before long, I had purchased a backpack, headlamp and tent. My polka-dotted skirt was quickly buried under a pile of flannel and fleece. And most importantly, I purchased a pair of mustard yellow hiking boots that I’d been eyeing for weeks.

A sign for Epic Sports is attached to the side of 6 Central Street in Bangor, the store’s location for 25 years. The store is scheduled to close on Sept. 10. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

When things were slow, I got in the habit of leafing through hiking guidebooks or poring over trail maps to pass the time. I read manuals for backpacking stoves, water purifiers and car racks.

The merchandise inspired me, but more influential were the people with whom I spent my time. Co-workers and loyal customers all encouraged me to get outside, paddle that stream or climb that mountain. I’m not sure they realized how much I looked up to them. While my co-workers talked about their favorite outdoor destinations, I created a mental list.

It took several years, but I’ve now visited all of those places.

The outdoor world contains some of the most generous, motivating, happy people. Thanks to Epic Sports, I stumbled into that community and made a home there.

I was always an outdoorsy kid, so maybe I would have gotten there eventually but I’m not so sure. Now a Registered Maine Guide and hiking guidebook author, I’ll forever be grateful for the time I spent learning and growing at that store.

It makes me wonder, in 25 years, how many people have worked at Epic Sports and left better for it, with a new or rekindled passion for the outdoors?

I wonder the same thing about the store’s many devoted customers.

Epic Sports has prepared families to camp in Baxter State Park and canoeists to race on the Kenduskeag Stream. I wonder how many adventures were made better and more safe because of the service the store provided.

On top of all that, Epic Sports has been deeply involved in the community by hosting and supporting events, such as the BANFF Mountain Film Festival and annual footraces. The store even hosted the launch party for my first hiking book, complete with balloons and snacks. That meant the world to me.

During the winter, Epic Sports has long added cheer to downtown with its elaborate holiday window displays. One year, an employee went above and beyond by creating massive, hand-painted cutouts of classic holiday characters, including Bumble the Abominable Snowmonster and the Grinch.

That reminds me of the beloved mannequin we always dressed up for one of the windows. Her name was Bernadette, and she was about 6-foot-4, I reckon. Now I’m getting lost in memories.

I’m sad to see Epic Sports close, but I’m happy that Brad Ryder will be enjoying a well-deserved retirement with his family. He loves to be out on the water, so I hope to see him paddling a canoe or kayak out on Pushaw Lake or Fields Pond.

Left to right, Signs posted on the windows of Epic Sports in Bangor announce the final day the family-owned store will be in business. A step ladder is seen in an otherwise empty window space of Epic Sports in Bangor on Sept. 8, just two days before the store is scheduled to close. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

Fortunately, Maine has many wonderful outdoor sports stores. They’re some of my favorite places to shop. (I’m very much of the opinion that you can’t buy a pair of boots or hiking pants without trying them on first.)

I’ve visited Epic Sports several times over the past few weeks, to talk to my friends who work there and to purchase a few final items. It’s shocking to see the empty shelves and open spaces, but I’m glad they’ve been able to clear out a lot of inventory.

The experience has prompted me to think about how local businesses touch so many lives. It has strengthened my resolve to shop locally. And it has reminded me of how grateful I am to Brad, his wife Lynda, and all the folks at Epic Sports. Thank you.

Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...