Coveted covers for Christmas
She thinks it will make quite an impression on her 78-year-old mother, who has been coming to Vail since its inception and only recently hung up her skis because the doctor told her she must.
Hashbarger’s gift isn’t your run-of-the mill, flower-under-glass piece from the mall gift shop.
It’s an 8-inch, cast-iron water valve – a “vanity valve” of sorts with Vail’s logo imprinted on it.
Hashbarger lugged her 6-pound disk home to St. Louis this summer after learning the town was selling them.
“I know she is going to be thrilled,” Hashbarger, a substitute teacher, says. “It’ll be a nostalgic thing for her.”
After all, Hashbarger’s mom, her late father and other family members, have been coming to Vail ever since it opened 40 years ago.
“I just know when my mom gets hers, she is going to want to buy one for her brother,” Hashbarger says.
Town officials are still a bit startled about the appeal of the valves and the manhole covers.
“We started down this path quite by accident,” says Vail Town Manager Bob McLaurin of the town’s move into souvenir retail.
The inside joke around town hall has been that $65 for a valve and $295 for a 2-foot-wide, 52-pound manhole cover is a “steal.” For a while, in fact, town employees couldn’t keep the coveted covers and valves on the street. At least two manhole covers and as many as a dozen valves disappeared last year – removed by determined “memento hunters.”
“We have discovered there is a market for these things that is much larger than we realized,” McLaurin says of the close to $7,000 worth of cast iron objects that have been sold since the town decided to offer them for sale for those not interested in prying them loose and lugging them off in the middle of the night.
Vacation home owners, McLaurin says, seem to have “a soft spot for Vail.”
James Ellington of Denver is a second-home owner who who didn’t think twice about buying a piece of Vail for himself. The owner of a carpet manufacturing business, he’s building a home in Cordillera and says he plans to use the disks as ornamental accents in his driveway, walkway and patio.
“My wife and my daughter had noticed the ones in town and when we read about the town selling them we had to have them,” Ellington says.
“We thought it was a really neat deal. I’m thinking it would even make a neat table,” he adds.
Encouraged by customers like Ellington, the town is taking its accidental merchandise to the World Wide Web.
Vail manhole covers and valves now are available on eBay – http://www.ebay.com – a popular online auction site. Featured as “buy it now” listings, meaning the price is firm and supply is unlimited, the covers can be found by typing “Vail” into the search window and scanning along a lengthy list of items claiming to be related to Vail in some way.
McLaurin says the transition to eBay was a necessary step, considering the competition.
“We figured if someone could hawk a Polaroid photo of one of Elvis Presley’s last ski trips to Vail for $1,495, we should have an online presence as well,” he says.
The polaroid, depicting Elvis and members of the “Memphis Mafia sitting around a table playing cards,” is too dark on the screen to make out anyone. But, according the description, it comes with a certificate of authenticity from the Jimmy Velvet’s Elvis Presley Museum.
The manhole covers and water valves, in contrast, are simply billed as great holiday gifts for visitors who have grown tired of T-shirts and hats as traditional vacation mementos. Suggested uses, according to the town’s sales pitch, include tables, patio or driveway inlays, stepping stones or wall decorations.
Credit cards are accepted, and a 52-pound manhole cover can be shipped within days to most locations for under $20, the text promises.
People also can buy their manhole covers or water valves directly from the town by calling 479-2100 or stopping by the Vail Municipal Building, located at 75 South Frontage Road in Vail. For more information, visit http://www.vailgov.com.
Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 602, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.