In a front window are coffee mugs and in a back corner are stacks of decades-old magazines ("IS THE PRESIDENT A WELL MAN TODAY?" blares Liberty magazine's Dec. 13, 1941, cover, under a full-page portrait of FDR). In between are lots and lots — and lots — of other things.

A woefully incomplete list of the merchandise packed into Leipold's Gifts and Antiques in Excelsior would include old and new books, vases, T-shirts, lamp parts and shades (they do repairs), maps — many of Lake Minnetonka — jewelry, doll-house furniture, vintage pamphlets and brochures, post cards, snow globes, old photographs, imported nutcrackers, tablecloths, note pads, ceramic figurines and a 17-year-old cat named Boots, who lives there.

Which is to say that Leipold's is essentially unchanged since Darel and LaVerna Leipold opened the shop in 1971. (Boots wasn't there, of course, but there has always been a resident cat). With its hodgepodge of treasures and oddities, Leipold's (pronounced LY-polds) has for decades remained one of the more idiosyncratic shops in this tiny lakeside city.

"Overwhelming" is how Scott McGinnis, 57, a volunteer for the Excelsior Lake Minnetonka Historical Society, describes the store. "You need to spend at least an hour in there to actually see everything and even then you won't be able to see everything."

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

"You can tell when people come in whether they like it or not," she said. Some express fascination with the mass of curiosities. But "some people kind of dismiss it as, 'Ugh, what is all this stuff?'"

"Anything that we stock in this store I'd be proud to have in my house," Darel said, pointing out that even the items holding merchandise — an old wooden Coca-Cola case, for example — have vintage charm.

Constancy in a changing city

In a community dramatically changing over recent decades, Darel, 89, and LaVerna, 81, operate one of the oldest commercial businesses and one of a rapidly vanishing few still held by original owners ordescendants.

This year, as the shop marks its 50th anniversary, Excelsior's commercial district was added to the National Register of Historic Places. On the outside, many downtown Excelsior buildings look essentially like they did in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — the city's Heritage Preservation Commission enforces strict rules to keep them that way. But interiors along Water Street, the town's main drag, have undergone substantial transformations.

In what used to be dilapidated second-story apartments across from Leipold's, the Hotel Excelsior now offers luxury suites for around $300 a night. The building on the corner, once a drug store with soda fountain, is now an upscale restaurant; the former hardware store across the street is also an upscale restaurant, and down the block are several more restaurants sprinkled among elegant boutiques with carefully curated gifts, home furnishings and apparel.

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

Amidst it all, Leipold's 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 and living in Port Arthur, Texas, he visits Darel and LaVerna whenever he's in town. "It smells the same, looks the same, is still packed from floor to ceiling and wall to wall."

Leipold's "has been a fixture in my life for as long as I can recall," said Dave Force, 64, who grew up in Excelsior and now lives in Orange, Va.

On return visits, "I always stop in at Leipold's to chat, scratch the cat and pick up old books for my daughter to smell." (Force's adult daughter is an archivist: "Guess they like the way old collections appeal to the olfactory senses," he said.)

Callie Eide of Eden Prairie remembers saving up her allowance to shop for blown-glass objects at Leipold's.

"Leipold's is the essence of Excelsior, the area itself, and in many ways, all small towns," said Eide, 61.

Paul Huber fondly remembers descending into Leipold's basement. "If you think the shelves are well stocked upstairs on the main level, then you have not been downstairs in the lower level and seen the mass quantities of items they have down there," said Huber, 66, owner of one of Excelsior's few even older businesses, the 71-year-old Huber Funeral Homes & Cremation Services.

Same in the back room. "You can barely move" in either place, McGinnis said. "Granted, there's a lot of junk that really doesn't have much value. But for as much as there is of that, there's absolute treasure."

'Kindest people you'd ever want to meet'

As a child, Eide said, she found Darel and LaVerna intimidating, but now considers them fascinating and kind. One Yelp commenter called Darel "crotchety." McGinnis, who often helps the couple out with maintenance tasks around the store, said they can be a bit eccentric.

But "these are both two of the best people, the kindest people, you'd ever 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 Rotary Club, organized the city's annual Apple Day for decades and formed a nonprofit organization that restored the salvaged Steamboat Minnehaha (which also made 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 Leipold's occupies, as well as property across the street, during a slump in the city's economy, two years before the famed Excelsior Amusement Park closed.

Excelsior "was working class," Darel said. "It was a full-service small town, is what it was."

With longtime downtown retailers closing, Excelsior rebranded itself as a day-trip destination. Visitors discovered the town's charm and began moving in. Boutiques proliferated. The median home value, once just a shade above Hennepin County's as a whole, is now over $600,000, more than double the county's, according to the Metropolitan Council.

The Leipolds feel every bit as comfortable in a fancier Excelsior, LaVerna said. "It isn't as different as people want to make it out to be."

Even in their 80s, the couple have no plans to retire.

"This is their life. This is where they find joy is at their store," McGinnis said. "This is what they do and they're having fun."

Darel echoed those words in his characteristically plain language. "We've continued the business because we enjoy it," he said.