Who is Charles Lazarus? Toys ‘R’ Us Founder Dies At 94

The founder of Toys “R” Us Inc., a children’s toy retailer, Charles Lazarus, who successfully combined supermarket-style services with touches of fantasy and made his company a long time success fighting off competition, died Thursday at the age of 94. 

His death comes just one week after his company announced that it was closing its doors. The news of his demise was confirmed by Michael Goldstein, a close friend to the company’s former chairman. In a telephonic interview, Goldstein said Lazarus died at his home in Manhattan. 

A spokeswoman for Toys “R” Us, Amy von Walter, also spoke about his death. She said the former chairman’s death adds to the chain of “many sad moments” the company went through recently. 

However, on a positive note, she said the company “will forever be grateful for his positive energy, passion for the customer and love for children everywhere.”

Founded in 1957, Toys “R” Us filed for bankruptcy in September 2017 after being saddled with more than $5 billion in debt. In a chain of recent events, the company also closed off its operations in the United States and the United Kingdom, while attempting to sell off its remaining international units. 

According to a report in Bloomberg, the chain includes more than 1,600 Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us stores in around 38 countries. Before the company faced such major debts, Toys “R” Us was considered one of the biggest stories in retailing in the past 20 years. 

Lazarus was also touted as one of the few geniuses in the business. 

According to Entreprenuer.com, Lazarus first got the idea to start the company after he returned from World War II. In order to do that, he rented his father’s bicycle-repair shop in the same building where he grew up. 

“I came out of the service after the war, and everyone I talked to said they were going to go home, get married, have children and live the American dream. I had saved a few dollars in the service, so I decided that I would open a store in my father’s bicycle-repair shop. But instead of selling bikes, I would sell cribs, carriages, strollers, high chairs, everything for the baby. My instincts told me the timing was right,” he had said. 

Toys "R" Us founder, Charles Lazarus dies at the age of 94 In this photo, customers enter a Toys ‘R’ Us store in Emeryville, California, March 15, 2018. Photo: Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

As the business started to grow, Lazarus soon realized that the success of his enterprise largely depended on focusing on the need of the customers. He first sold cribs but soon realized that people who bought toys returned to buy more whereas those who bought cribs never did. 

It was this realization that made Lazarus focus all of his attention on selling toys, an industry, which then had little organized competition. 

However, things started to turn out quite differently once Lazarus stepped down as the chief executive officer of the company in 1994. The company faced severe competition from stores like “Amazon” and “Walmart” which eventually overtook it in the year 1998. The company did suffer following this and has now closed down operations. However, Lazarus’ contribution to fulfilling every child’s dream is something that will always remain a part of his legacy. 

Lazarus had two daughters, Ruth and Diane, with his first wife, Udyss, whom he divorced in 1979. He later married Joan Regenbogen, an interior decorator.

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