Back Bay Bicycle will close its doors for the last time next week, signaling the end of an era for Portland’s cycling community.

The store has been in the city for three decades and in its Forest Avenue storefront for 25 years. But its lease was up this year and owner Cheryl Oliver is ready for a change.

Although she has loved running the shop, Oliver didn’t want to sign another long-term lease and couldn’t find a good alternative space. She also didn’t want to deal with the headache of moving. A sale of the business looked possible but fell through.

“It was all in or all out,” Oliver, 62, said Tuesday.

The store’s loyal customers learned the store was closing in an email sent late last week. Since then, they have been coming in droves for the liquidation sale and to pay their respects to the community institution. Business has been so intense that Oliver isn’t sure the store inventory will last until the end of the month.

“It’s gone shockingly fast,” she said. “It’s like watching snowbanks in springtime.”

LOYAL CUSTOMERS AND WORKERS

The store was a full-service operation, offering bikes, helmets, clothing and accessories, tools and parts. It carried all kinds of bikes for adults and kids, and had a full line of performance road bikes from Masi and Bianchi. Mechanics worked on bikes in the basement repair shop and employees offered bike maintenance classes. Five weekly group rides are organized from the shop.

Mike Scarpelli, 29, a mechanic and salesman at the store, admits he’s having a hard time coming to terms with a future without Back Bay Bicycle. The Portland native bought his first two bikes at the store and started working there five years ago. He hoped to stay on and work at the store, on and off, as long as he could.

Henry Powell, left, of Portland gets help Tuesday from Mike Scarpelli, who has worked at Back Bay Bicycle for five years. Scarpelli said he wanted to buy the business, but the closure is moving too fast for him to get financing. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Henry Powell, left, of Portland gets help Tuesday from Mike Scarpelli, who has worked at Back Bay Bicycle for five years. Scarpelli said he wanted to buy the business, but the closure is moving too fast for him to get financing.

Scarpelli said he wanted to buy the business, but the closure is moving too fast for him to get a loan together.

“It’s bumming me out hard that I can’t stay here,” Scarpelli said. “It’s a fixture in the town. I wish someone would step up and help buy the place.”

In some ways, Tuesday was like any other day at the shop. A steady stream of customers came in, and staff kept busy fixing flat tires, ringing up customers and scheduling bikes for repairs. Some people thought the store was remodeling or moving, until they noticed the bare shelves and dwindling number of new bicycles on the floor.

Kevin Coyne, 55, was there to pick up a bike that was in the shop for repairs. Coyne has been a customer for years and bought his daughter’s first bike at the shop. It seemed busier than normal when he brought his bike in to get fixed over the weekend, but he didn’t put two and two together until he read the email that the shop was closing.

He is surprised and sad that it won’t be around anymore, but he’s happy that Oliver can retire if that’s what she wants.

“There’s something that doesn’t feel good,” he said, browsing through discounted bike bags. “Picking through here, it’s like going through a gravesite.”

MOVING ON WITH GOOD MEMORIES

Oliver said she got her start in the bicycle business at Portland Bike Exchange in the Old Port. In 1987 she opened her shop at a “hole in the wall” on Portland Street, then moved to Forest Avenue in 1992.

Business was steady over the decades and she built a loyal customer base. Some families have been buying bikes from her shop for generations.

Tobias English of Portland looks at a bike Tuesday at Back Bay Bicycle. So many customers have come in for the store's liquidation sale that owner Cheryl Oliver isn’t sure the inventory will last until the end of this month. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Tobias English of Portland looks at a bike Tuesday at Back Bay Bicycle. So many customers have come in for the store’s liquidation sale that owner Cheryl Oliver isn’t sure the inventory will last until the end of this month.

But after her brother died last year, Oliver started thinking about other things she wanted to do with her life. With the lease up this year, she decided it was best to move on. The hectic, seasonal nature of the business is what she’ll remember the most.

“I have always thrived on the chaotic mess that the bike season is,” Oliver said. “It’s like preparing for a big party that lasts five months, then you get some time in the winter to recharge.”

Beyond taking a month or so off after the shop closes, Oliver isn’t sure what she’ll do next.

Julie Suiter, 37, was at the store Tuesday buying some shoes, a lock and a saddle. Suiter bought her first bike from the shop when she started riding in cyclocross races three years ago, and trusted the shop for repairs and maintenance.

Aside from the loss of her favorite store, Portland is losing a landmark, Suiter said.

“It was one of those Portland shops,” she said. “The kind of shop you live in Portland to go to, you can’t find it anywhere else.”