Neptune Mountaineering

Founded: April 1, 1973

Specialties: Climbing, skiing and camping gear

Where: 633 South Broadway, Boulder

More info: neptunemountaineering.com

Although his new role is still being defined, Neptune Mountaineering founder Gary Neptune will still be allowed to walk around the store barefoot, as is his custom, according to the store's new owner.

"I would not want to have him not go barefoot, nor do I think that I could even enforce that if I wanted to," said Backwoods CEO Jennifer Mull, laughing. "It's just part of the deal."

Texas-based outdoor retail chain Backwoods has purchased Neptune Mountaineering, Backwoods announced Monday. The official acquisition date was Dec. 31, 2012, for an undisclosed amount.

Neptune, 67, said he began looking for a new owner for his outdoor specialty store around his 65th birthday, when he started thinking about retirement. He founded Neptune Mountaineering on April 1, 1973.

Though several companies approached him, Neptune said Backwoods, which now has nine stores across the country, fit all of his criteria for handing off the business.

Because Backwoods is still family owned, the company has the "human touch" that Neptune said he prefers. The Austin, Texas-based company was founded just before Neptune Mountaineering, in March of 1973, and has made it through economic ups and downs over the last 40 years, Neptune added, so he was confident in the company's business sense.

"I imagined, 'OK who would be my ideal buyer and what do I want out of it?'" Neptune said. "And then we got this inquiry from Backwoods and it turns out they were looking to expand in the Rockies. That quickly led to discussions. I liked them and I liked the fit. They pretty much matched exactly what I was looking for, so it happened."

Mull said in a phone interview that Backwoods will make very few changes to Neptune Mountaineering. Backwoods will rehire all of his current employees, and the store will keep its name, Neptune said.

"The goal is to make both companies stronger and stronger into the future," Mull said. "Backwoods is really excited to be a part of Boulder, but also not wanting to change what Neptune Mountaineering has meant to Boulder either. Neptune is a very big part of the Boulder community. We want to add to its prosperity."

Neptune will still work for Backwoods, though his title and responsibilities are still "evolving," Mull said. However, Neptune maintained ownership of the Neptune Mountaineering and Ski Museum, which will remain at the shop.

Chris Archer, a Boulder-based attorney who represents a number of companies and interests in the outdoor industry, said to his knowledge, Neptune Mountaineering was one of the last independently owned outdoor gear shops in the Front Range, if not in all of Colorado.

Many shops have been forced to close because they can't compete with both new and used internet outdoor gear retailers, Archer said. Backwoods will bring online retail expertise to Neptune Mountaineering, one of the directions Neptune said his one store alone wasn't big enough to pursue.

But Neptune said Backwoods has promised him that his shop will continue on as an outdoor community gathering place. Neptune Mountaineering's weekly Thursday night slideshow presentations will continue, as well as fundraising parties for local efforts, which have been "invaluable," Archer said. Backwoods Adventures, a sister company to Backwoods, will bring adventure travel expeditions to the store, some of which Neptune said he hopes to lead.

Total Climbing owner John Bicknell said he hopes Backwoods will maintain Neptune Mountaineering's community involvement and staff members who are outdoorsmen and women themselves.

"Neptune's is a world-class mountaineering store where folks working there are world-class climbers themselves," Bicknell said. "Maybe that will all maintain itself, but it's certainly a big change. Forty years is a long time."

Dan Howley, who worked for Neptune before founding The Spot Bouldering Gym and Climbing School in 2002, said Neptune Mountaineering has been an "anchor piece and a benchmark" for the climbing community in Boulder.

Howley added that he was glad Neptune would be around to pass along his "passion" and "vision" to new staff members.

--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.