Charles P. Lazarus, who founded Toys R Us, the toy store chain that captured the hearts of U.S. consumers but that eventually faded and succumbed to bankruptcy, has died at 94.
The company confirmed his death in a statement but gave no other details.
Lazarus’ death comes one week after Toys R Us announced that it would start liquidating its stores in the United States. Loaded down by debt and unable to attract new investment, the chain could no longer compete with more nimble toy sellers like Amazon and Walmart. The closings could result in more than 30,000 employees losing their jobs.
It was a painful moment for a company that Lazarus founded 70 years ago in Washington, D.C., and that grew into a global toy seller with thousands of stores in locations stretching from the United Kingdom to Asia.
Lazarus opened his first store, Children’s Bargain Town, which sold furniture, in 1948, seeking to cash in on the post-World War II baby boom. Within a few years, he began selling toys along with cribs and strollers.
In toys, Lazarus discovered a more lucrative business: Because specific toys quickly fell out of favor with children, parents had to make frequent trips to the store to keep up with the latest fads.
He opened his first store dedicated exclusively to toys in 1957 and called it Toys R Us (although turning the R to face the other way).
The company went on to open cavernous big-box stores across the U.S. suburbs, dominating toys sales with deep discounts and a huge selection, and squeezing out smaller toy shops.
Along the way it endeared itself to generations of children, with a lovable mascot in Geoffrey the Giraffe and a hummable jingle ? "I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid.’’
Toys R Us became a retailing powerhouse internationally. President George H.W. Bush joined Lazarus for the opening of the company’s first store in Japan in 1992.
Lazarus, who was born Oct. 4, 1923, in Washington and was raised there, stepped down as chief executive and chairman in March 1994. But he remained involved in the company, visiting the Toys R Us headquarters in Wayne, New Jersey, as recently as last year.
The company filed for bankruptcy in September, as sales declined and debt payments mounted. On March 15, the company said it planned to close or sell all of its stores in the United States.
"There have been many sad moments for Toys R Us in recent weeks, and none more heartbreaking than today’s news about the passing of our beloved founder, Charles Lazarus," Toys R Us said in its statement Thursday afternoon. "We will forever be grateful for his positive energy, passion for the customer and love for children everywhere."