The Dealmaker

Possibly the most influential person in Miami's ongoing facelift is a Paris-born, Toronto-raised workaholic named Edie Laquer

Happily Peggy learned her brother Mietek and his Polish wife were in Toronto. In 1950, two years after Edie's birth, Peggy, Michael, and the two girls moved to the Canadian burg. Peggy eventually opened a women's clothing store, and Michael developed a real estate business. Little Edie had her own childhood endeavors: a chemistry set, a stamp collection, and a zest for fishing. "She was a terrific student," Peggy remembers. "For her everything was so easy." When Edie was eight, she gave her mom a box as an anniversary present. Inside was a rose made from colored tissue, and a single penny. "She wrote a lovely poem," Peggy says. "[It said something] like, 'It's an empty box with one penny but it's still filled with love and devotion.' I still have it."

Peggy didn't push her daughter toward a business career. "When she was eight years old, I said, 'Edie, don't be like me.' Because I could see it. She did a lot of things exactly like me." Peggy thinks Edie was born with entrepreneurial drive. "You are a businesswoman or you are not," she comments. Peggy's suffering influenced Laquer. "She thought of me coming out [of Auschwitz] and having nothing, you know?" the mother says. "How we really tried hard not to ask for help and do it on our own. She always admired me and said, 'You know, Ma, I don't know how you do it. From nothing you make something.'"

Laquer says her parents did not pressure her. "If anything they didn't like to see me get up quite as early or spend quite as many hours poring over books," she recalls. "But whatever I attempted to achieve, they were always right behind me." Laquer also admits she was extremely competitive. She describes a high school nemesis named Marilyn. "She was the kind of person you hate in school," Laquer begins, in a jocular tone. "She was brilliant, very scholastically inclined.... The kind of person you really want to whack. I'm just kidding. But you know the kind. She was a huge girl sitting at a desk and writing these little teenie-weenie letters in a straight little line. And everything was perfect and her hair was perfect and her clothes were perfect. And I hated her." Laquer was so obsessive she had an ulcer by the time she graduated. "I guess it was good to have someone [like Marilyn]," she offers. "You play tennis a little better if you have someone that plays tennis as well as you do rather than someone who can't play at all. So I guess she was my tennis player." Laquer adds that her sister was similarly competitive. The two eventually became estranged.

This upscale hardhat area would not have been possible without Laquer's 1997 deal of the year
Steve Satterwhite
This upscale hardhat area would not have been possible without Laquer's 1997 deal of the year

After high school Laquer attended Bathurst College in Toronto. "I wanted, of all gross things, to be a pharmacist," she admits. "Why, I will never be able to understand." After she left college she and a friend started a cosmetics company. Laquer came up with the name, Visage, which means "face" in French. An acquaintance from an advertising firm designed a logo, and labels were made. The partners ordered lipstick, mascara, and other items from a manufacturer in Union City, New Jersey, and applied the Visage labels. Soon, in the manner of Mary Kay and Avon, Laquer had dozens of saleswomen fanning out across Toronto, selling tens of thousands of dollars per year of Visage cosmetics.

Laquer declines to discuss her three-year marriage in Toronto to a man whose last name she still bears. "She married a nice guy. He was very handsome. He wasn't the right guy," Peggy summarizes. After about three years in the cosmetics business, Laquer also desired career change. "I remember reading books about [real estate mogul] William Zeckendorf and his amazing feats in New York building the United Nations," Laquer says. "I was always fascinated with architecture and development." Her big break came one night in the early Seventies, when a man named Irving Solnick took a shine to her at a party. "He was about 30 years older than I and a very well-known developer," Laquer recounts. "He owned a tremendous amount of real estate -- 100 percent quality locations right in the heart of downtown. It was fascinating to work with him. He was brilliant. So I learned a lot from him. I certainly learned that there was no industry in which you could do as well financially as real estate. The sky is absolutely the limit." With a converted greenhouse for an office, Laquer worked with Solnick for seven years.

She was one of the only women in commercial real estate in Toronto. That would become true in Miami as well.

Edie Laquer's career in South Florida follows the roller-coaster path of Miami's commercial development. In 1979 she moved to Hollywood, which she had often visited as a child with her parents. When Broward bored her, she breezed down I-95 in her purple 1974 Jaguar XKE and explored Miami. She soon bought a luxury condo in Coconut Grove with a bay view for $335,000. In 1980 she went to work for Clark-Biondi, a Miami-based real estate firm (acquired by Grubb & Ellis in 1985). One by one she analyzed every commercial lot east of I-95. She met with city staff, worked with architects, and read the Miami city code. "These ordinances will definitely put you out like a light," she warns. "In these first few years, I just decided I was going to make it my business to understand zoning in every respect and I do, certainly in the areas I work."

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