Dorothy "Dottie" Burns, who became known to generations of Twin Cities antique hunters as the lively, smiling, knowledgeable lady at the Loft Antiques in southwest Minneapolis, died of colon cancer Saturday. She was 71 and recently had lived in Bloomington, but was a Minneapolis resident most of her life.

The Loft was born in the 1970s as a "pleasure hobby" for Burns and several friends in a cramped, labyrinthine upstairs apartment at 50th Street and Xerxes Avenue S., said her son Randy Burns of Minneapolis.

Business boomed, and a few years later the shop was moved to more spacious quarters nearby, where it is now a mainstay in a lively business district. Burns worked there as seller and appraiser -- as well as a charmer of customers -- until October 2011, when failing health forced her retirement.

She was born in south Minneapolis and grew up in the same house at 41st Street and Elliot Avenue S. that she and her husband, Jerry, eventually bought from her parents, her son said. She graduated from the old Minneapolis Central High School in 1958, attended the University of Minnesota and was married in 1960. In 1969, she and Jerry moved to 53rd Street and Upton Avenue S., where they raised three sons.

In the mid-1970s, she and Jerry "got into the hobby of buying quirky old items and antiques during drives around the state and refurbishing them," Randy said.

Soon she and six friends opened the Loft at its first location, "a charming place filled to the rafters," Randy said. "My brothers and I served as sherpas for hauling the big items upstairs to display."

In 1979, Burns and her partners moved to the larger venue across the intersection. There the Loft remains, now as a 15-partner antiques mall.

Through its history, the Loft has been known for friendly greetings and knowledgeable talk about its wares.

"There's always been such wonderful camaraderie among co-workers, and Mom was a big part of that," Randy Burns said. "She was naturally astute in business, kept the books and loved greeting customers and making new friends -- literally thousands of people got to know Dottie Burns."

The store even attracted celebrities, including Whoopi Goldberg, Sally Struthers and Jonathan Winters, who came in looking for antique iron toys, her son says.

What was it about the old-stuff trade that so delighted her? "It was the hunt for treasure," Randy Burns said. "Whether the treasure was an old book or jewelry, porcelain or pottery or furniture, it was just wonderfully fun for her. "

Burns also loved learning about her wares' historical context. "She was like one of those experts you see on [PBS'] 'Antiques Roadshow,'" her son said. Her love of evocative things also shone in her own home and the family's weekend place on the St. Croix River.

She also doted on her family. "She loved shopping with her granddaughters," Randy Burns said. She also had a group of lifelong friends with whom she often traveled.

In addition to Randy, she is survived by Jerry, her husband of 52 years; two other sons, Danny of Friedrichshafen, Germany, and Tim of Prior Lake; a niece whom she considered her daughter, Brenda McCormick of Edina; two sisters, Margaret Berg of Sun City, Ariz., and Diane Duvick of Prior Lake, and seven grandchildren. Services have been held.

Pamela Miller • 612-673-4290