Merv Lapin – always thinking outside the box
After inquiring about job opportunities, the blonde at the front desk told him that the general manager, Gordon Weller, was looking for a night auditor. Trained in finance, Merv had a job the next day. That was the beginning of a successful business career in Vail. Next he was asked by Gunther Holfer, manager of the Red Lion, to work there as a waiter – a job that lasted two years.
During that time, Lapin started Vail’s first accounting firm. His client list grew rapidly and included Jim Slevin, the Gramshammers, Joe Staufer, the hospital, and the Holiday Inn. Ted Kindel then hired him at the Christiania.
In 1969, Lapin started Vail Securities, making a market in buying and selling Vail common stock. At about the same time, he brokered the sale of lifetime ski passes. Also in 1969, when he learned that Leo Duran from Minturn, the trash man, had more business than he could handle, Lapin started Eagle County Trash. He had a pink truck painted with flowers. The slogan was, “We Cater to the Polish.”
He got rid of that slogan almost immediately amid the complaints. His next slogan stuck – “Satisfaction Guaranteed or We Double Your Trash Back!”
Again in 1969, Lapin started buying land from Vail all the way to Eagle Airport. He formed a partnership with Jack Crosby from Austin, Texas, who had invested in the expansion of Gasthof Gramshammer. They bought two large ranches in Eagle, bought the Crossroads Building in Vail from Ted Kindel and Rod Slifer, and added the east building to it.
When the banks were leery of lending mortgages in the mountains, the enterprising Lapin formed a venture-capital fund to support small businesses. He had about 20 in the group and started operations in 1969.
A wave of people started coming to Vail because they liked the mountains and the lifestyle. Lapin found out that the mortgages cost less than paying rent. For example, if a house was offered for $16,000, Merv would get a $12,000 mortgage from the bank, then make a second mortgage with the buyer for $8,000 and walk out of the closing with a profit. This idea launched him on his real-estate career.
Merv Lapin took advantage of many business opportunities. He came a long way from that lonely night in 1966 when he stopped at the Vail Village Inn – the first accounting firm, the first securities company, the first trash company, and the first venture-capital fund. Today, as one of Vail’s foremost citizens and a member of several charitable boards, Lapin looks back in awe as he reflects on how much Vail has meant to him.
Editor’s Note: In a continued effort to help the community understand its roots, the Vail Daily for a second time is serializing Dick Hauserman’s “The Inventors of Vail.” This is the 114th installment, an excerpt from chapter 12, “The Ever-Increasing “New Locals.” The book is available at Verbatim Booksellers, The Bookworm of Edwards, Pepi’s Sports, Gorsuch Ltd. and The Rucksack, as well as other retailers throughout the valley. Hauserman can be contacted by phone at 926-2895 or by mail at P.O. Box 1410, Edwards CO, 81632.