Charles, who combined supermarket-style service with personal touches to create Toys R Us, has died.
The 94 year old died yesterday in Manhattan. Amy von Walter, a spokeswoman for Toys R Us, said the news adds to the chain’s “many sad moments” recently, but she added that the company “will forever be grateful for his positive energy, passion for the customer and love for children everywhere.”
From the first Toys R Us outlet, opened in 1957 in the Maryland suburbs near his hometown of Washington, Charles stuck to a winning formula of high volume, discounted prices and consistent retail formats.
As much as anyone, he transformed the toy business from Christmas-focused to year-round. Manufacturers ran proposed products by his company before committing to wide-scale production, according to a 1986 article in Atlantic Monthly magazine, which called Charles “the person most responsible for loosening Santa’s grip on the toy business.” His strategy created the world’s largest toy-store chain.
Charles led the New Jersey-based company – now based in Wayne – through its 1966 sale to Interstate Department Stores and through Interstate’s bankruptcy in 1974, which resulted in Toys R Us emerging as the surviving company and going public in 1978.
Charles added personal touches such as the backward R in the store’s name – “to give the impression that a child wrote it,” according to a company history – and Geoffrey the Giraffe, the chain’s mascot.
Isaac Larian, CEO of MGA Entertainment, posted the following dedication to Charles on LinkedIn: “I’m deeply saddened by the news of Toys R Us founder Charles Lazarus’ passing. Charles lit up every room with his energy and enthusiasm; he was a defining figure in my career and an icon in the toy industry. What he accomplished in his life is nothing short of incredible—from founding #ToysRUs to his fearless determination on the historic day he broke through the retail monopoly to open Toys R Us in Japan. Charles was an inspiration. He could conquer hurdles and rise to any challenge with a passion unlike any entrepreneur I’ve ever met. He was a daring businessman who truly loved toys and his legacy will live on in the hearts of children young and old. Charles built an American icon and his commitment to creating an environment for children to learn, play, and grow has left an indelible mark on the world.”