In 50 years, Excelsior has changed a lot, but not that of Leipold

In a front window are coffee cups and in a back corner are stacks of decades-old magazines (“IS THE PRESIDENT A GOOD MAN TODAY?” Screams the cover of Liberty magazine for December 13th. 1941, under a full-page portrait of FDR). In between there are many and many – and many – other things.

A woefully incomplete list of the goods packaged in Leipold’s Gifts and Antiques in Excelsior would include old and new books, vases, T-shirts, lamp parts and lampshades (they repair), maps – lots of Lake Minnetonka – jewelry, dollhouse furniture, vintage leaflets and brochures, postcards, snow globes, old photographs, imported nutcrackers, tablecloths, notepads, ceramic figurines and a 17 year old cat named Boots, who lives there.

That is, Leipold’s is essentially unchanged since Darel and LaVerna Leipold opened the store in 1971. (The boots weren’t there, of course, but there has always been a resident cat). With its mishmash of treasures and quirks, Leipold’s (pronounced LY-polds) has remained for decades one of the most unique shops in this small lakeside town.

That’s how Scott McGinnis, 57, a volunteer with the Excelsior Lake Minnetonka Historical Society, describes the store “overwhelming.” “You have to spend at least an hour there to really see it all and even then you won’t be able to see it all.”

The store has always tried to appeal to a wide range of tastes, LaVerna said.

“You can tell when people come in whether they want to or not,” she said. Some express their fascination with the mass of curiosities. But “some people reject it and say, ‘Ugh, what is all this?'”

“Anything we stock in this store I’d be proud to have in my house,” Darel said, pointing out that even items with merchandise – an old wooden Coke crate, for example – have a charm. vintage.

Consistency in a changing city

In a community that has changed dramatically over the past few decades, Darel, 89, and LaVerna, 81, operate one of the oldest business ventures and one of the few endangered businesses still owned by business owners. origin or their descendants.

This year, as the boutique celebrates its 50th anniversary, the Excelsior shopping district has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. On the outside, many of the buildings in downtown Excelsior essentially look like they were in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – the Town’s Heritage Preservation Commission has strict rules for them. maintain so. But the interiors along Water Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, have undergone substantial alterations.

In what were once run-down second-floor apartments across from Leipold, the Excelsior Hotel now offers luxury suites for around $ 300 a night. The building on the corner, once a pharmacy with a soda fountain, is now an upscale restaurant; the old hardware store across the street is also an upscale restaurant, and at the end of the block are several other restaurants dotted with elegant boutiques with carefully selected gifts, furniture, and clothing.

In 1971, the dining options on the block were essentially a drugstore lunch counter and a classic small town beer and hamburger tavern. Now you can get, among other things, a burger on a toasted brioche bun accompanied by a Belgian wheat beer brewed with coriander and orange.

In the midst of it all, Leipold is an unchanged institution.

“It’s like it was back when I was in high school,” said Mark Lerohl, who worked after school at Leipold’s as a teenager. Now 59 years old and living in Port Arthur, Texas, he visits Darel and LaVerna whenever he’s in town. “It smells the same, looks the same, is always packed from floor to ceiling and wall to wall.”

Leipold’s “has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” said Dave Force, 64, who grew up in Excelsior and now lives in Orange, Virginia.

On return visits, “I always stop by Leipold’s to chat, scratch the cat and pick up old books for my daughter to smell.” (Force’s grown-up daughter is an archivist: “I guess they like the way the old collections appeal to the olfactory senses,” he said.)

Eden Prairie’s Callie Eide remembers saving her money to buy blown glass items from Leipold.

“Leipold’s is the essence of Excelsior, the region itself and, in many ways, all small towns,” said Eide, 61.

Paul Huber fondly remembers going down to the basement in Leipold. “If you think the shelves are well stocked on the main level on the main level, then you haven’t gone downstairs to the lower level and seen the massive amounts of items they have there,” he said. said Huber, 66, owner of one of the very few Excelsior. older businesses, funeral homes and Huber cremation services, aged 71.

Ditto in the back room. “You can barely move” in both places, said McGinnis. “Okay, there’s a lot of garbage that really doesn’t have much value. But as far as there is, there’s an absolute treasure.”

“The nicest people you would ever want to meet”

As a child, Eide said, she found Darel and LaVerna intimidating, but now sees them as fascinating and kind. A Yelp commentator called Darel “grumpy.” McGinnis, who often helps the couple with maintenance chores around the store, said they can be a bit eccentric.

But “they’re two of the best people, the nicest people you’d want to meet,” McGinnis said.

The Leipolds live in Orono but have long been active in the Excelsior community. They attend church there, belong to the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club, have hosted the city’s annual Apple Day for decades, and formed a non-profit organization that restored the salvaged Steamboat Minnehaha (which has also entered in the national register this year).

When the two met, LaVerna was a teacher and Darel a high school administrator. But Darel, whose three degrees from the University of Minnesota include a master’s in business education, wanted to run a business. They bought the building occupied by Leipold, as well as the property across the street, during an economic crisis in the city, two years before the famous Excelsior theme park closed.

Excelsior “was from the working class,” Darel said. “It was a small full-service town, that’s what it was.”

With the closure of longtime downtown retailers, Excelsior rebranded itself as a day trip destination. Visitors discover the charm of the city and begin to settle there. The shops are multiplying. The median value of the home, once just a little above that of Hennepin County as a whole, now exceeds $ 600,000, more than double that of the county, according to the Metropolitan Council.

The Leipolds feel equally at home in a more amateurish Excelsior, LaVerna said. “It’s not as different as people want it to be.”

Even at 80, the couple have no plans to retire.

“This is their life. This is where they find joy in their store,” McGinnis said. “This is what they do and they are having fun.”

Darel echoed these words in his characteristic, simple language. “We have continued the business because we like it,” he said.

Katy read written for the Inspired section of the Star Tribune. She previously covered Carver County and Western Hennepin County as well as aging, work issues and other topics since her debut at the newspaper in 2011. Prior to that, she was a Times-Picayune reporter at New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Duluth News-Tribune and spent 15 years as a freelance writer for national and regional magazines.

[email protected] 612-673-4583 @Katy_Read

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