Two longtime figures at the Boulder Running Company have left the store this summer, citing differences with the business's new owner.

A year after Boulder Running Company was acquired by Running Specialty Group, a division of Gart Companies, founder and former co-owner Mark Plaatjes and product line manager Henry Guzman have left the store.

Plaatjes decided not to renew his contract with the new owner on June 1. Guzman was told last month that his position was being eliminated, and that no new position was available to him.

Guzman is in the process of opening a new store in south Boulder called Run Boulder, which is set to open in early August.

Plaatjes said he plans to focus more of his energy on his physiotherapy practice, In Motion Rehabilitation.

"It was a very difficult decision," Plaatjes said. "Their vision with where they were taking the store versus my vision was different."

Bill Kirkendall, president of Running Specialty Group, said Plaatjes was a "valuable asset and contributor" during the ownership transition.

"Mark has chosen now to focus on his practice and is committed to serving his clients with that same passion and professionalism that we all know so well," Kirkendall wrote in an emailed statement.

Kirkendall added that Running Specialty Group wishes both Plaatjes and Guzman the best in their "next endeavors."

Many store employees now work part-time

World-champion marathoner Plaatjes co-founded the store 18 years ago with fellow South African distance runner Johnny Halberstadt.

When Gart Companies approached them last year with an offer, the two had different opinions about what to do, Plaatjes said.

They ultimately decided to sell, with Plaatjes staying on as a manager for the Boulder location. Boulder Running Company also has locations in Littleton and Colorado Springs, which were part of the sale.

Being owned by a large company provided the store with many perks, Plaatjes said — better inventory tracking, economies of scale, new softwares.

But in the end, Plaatjes said he was uncomfortable working for a company that only cared about the bottom line.

The new owner made most employees part-time, which meant they spent less time with customers and less time with the products, he said. It also meant many had to find second jobs in order to live in Boulder, Plaatjes said.

Gart Companies also centralized buying so that all stores under Running Specialty Group carried the same products. That doesn't work in Boulder, Plaatjes said, which has different terrain and types of runners than a store in Boston, for example.

'Boulder is not Dallas'

Though it wasn't the right fit for him, Plaatjes said he knows the Boulder running community will decide where to shop for shoes, running expertise and other gear.

"The running community is smart and it's a very intimate community, and if they are still happy with what is going on at BRC, then they'll support it and if they feel like it's not the same thing, then they won't," he said.

Guzman, who worked at Boulder Running Company since 1999, said he understands the rationale for centralizing all buying operations.

But Guzman, who had been in charge of footwear purchases in Boulder, said the centralized buying operation didn't serve customers well.

"Boulder is not Dallas or Austin or North Carolina or Boston or the Midwest," he said. "They're not the same. (Tailored products) are what makes specialty stores special. Every store is special and unique in its own right."

He said the process for approving donations or community-driven events became more challenging with the new owner. In the past, Guzman said decisions about making donations were made based on the good of the community.

The company under its original owners never calculated the monetary return of donating a pair of shoes, he said.

"If it's good for the community, it's good for us, then it's good for everybody," he said. "We're a people business. We're about taking care of people. If you don't have people coming into your business, then you don't have a business."

Guzman is partnering with R.L. Smith and Tricia Vieth, who opened In-Step Boulder in 2009. In three weeks, that business will be converted from a custom athletic insole shop to a full-service running store. A soft re-opening is planned for the weekend of Aug. 1-3, the same weekend as the Boulder Ironman race.

"The community that has given me so much over the last 17 years deserves something better," he said.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106 or kutas@dailycamera.com