NEW YORK (AP) – Charles P. Lazarus, the World War II veteran who founded Toys R Us six decades ago and transformed it into an iconic piece of Americana, died Thursday at age 94, a week after the chain announced it was going out of business.
Toys R Us confirmed Lazarus’ death in a statement.
“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,” the company said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Charles’ family and loved ones.”
Lazarus, who stepped down as CEO of Toys R Us in 1994, transformed the toy industry with a business model that became one of the first retail category killers – big stores that are so devoted to one thing, and have such an impressive selection, that they drive smaller competitors out of business.
More recently, Toys R Us found itself unable to survive the trends of the digital age, namely competition from the likes of Amazon, discounters like Walmart and mobile games. No longer able to bear the weight of its heavy debt load, the company announced last week that it would close or sell its 735 stores across the country, including its Babies R Us stores.
But for decades, it was Toys R Us that drove trends in child’s play, becoming a launchpad for what became some of the industry’s hottest toys.
Lazarus, the son of a bicycle store owner, modeled his business after the self-service supermarkets that were becoming popular in the 1950s, stacking merchandise high to give shoppers the feeling it had an infinite number of toys.
The stores created a magical feeling for children roaming aisles filled with Barbies, bikes and other toys laid out in front of them.