OAKLAND -- It was a Friday night, and the Wheels of Justice Cyclery in Montclair was looking a little sad.
Fixtures had been taken down from the walls, the store's repair shop was gone and a few straggling bikes, some with price tags and some with repair orders attached to their frames, remained in a rack by the south wall.
After working more than a dozen years in Montclair Village, owner Justice Baxter was closing the shop at 2042 Mountain Blvd. and consolidating his business at his second store on Solano Avenue in Albany.
Friends and longtime supporters of the store dropped by for a goodbye party of pizza and beer as a final tribute to the business that had helped so many people become interested in cycling.
Resident Ken Whitney was one of those loyal customers.
"We traded here a lot," he said. "We bought stuff for our road bikes and they gave us good prices. They were a good shop here."
Wheels of Justice was well known in the community. Its logo is the traditional scales of justice surrounded by a large bike gear.
Aside from the obvious play on Baxter's name, Wheels of Justice stood for Baxter's philosophy that biking should be open to everyone and avoid the elitist atmosphere of other cycleries.
"In high school, every bike shop I went to was an annoying place to shop because it wasn't a fun and fulfilling experience," he said. "I always felt like I wasn't cool enough."
Baxter wanted the store to take on the atmosphere of a friendly local institution like the neighborhood bar in the comedy "Cheers."
"I thought, 'Wouldn't it be different if you had a place like that show in the '80s where we don't care about what kind of biker you are, how hairy or hairless your legs are. You like bikes, we like you.' That was my business plan."
Over the years, the store was in other locations including below the local Bank of America branch where it shared space with a photography studio.
The business moved to its current corner location four years ago, replacing a paint shop that went out of business.
Baxter's desire to spread the joy of cycling included a trade-in plan for children's bikes so kids could trade up to a size-appropriate model as they grew. The kids program was popular. Schools and other bike shops sent customers to Wheels of Justice after they heard about the program, Baxter said.
But an uncertain economy and the economics of the bicycle business combined to put a crimp into the Montclair store's bottom line.
Sales started to decline during the recession of 2008 and didn't rebound along with housing and other elements of the economy, he said. Last year, bicycle manufacturers exported 20 percent fewer bicycles into the United States, Baxter said.
Focusing on repairs and children's bikes gave Baxter less time to retail high-end bicycles -- some costing as much as $12,000 -- that are more profitable.
"We were never a high-end niche shop," he said. "People have told me in the past, 'Justice, you are not fancy enough. I like you but you don't sell expensive bikes enough.'"
The Albany location will continue to offer all the services that the Montclair store did and Baxter is hopeful his customers will follow him to the new location.
He had anticipated that his patrons would be angry at the Montclair store closure, but Baxter said many came by to offer their best wishes.
"Most have said 'Thank you, you helped me ride my bike more,'" he said.