In one of those ironic twists of fate, Charles Lazarus, who founded No. 1 toy specialty chain Toys“R”Us, died yesterday, one day before his creation began liquidation sales.
The official cause of death was respiratory failure.
Lazarus launched the business 70 years ago at the age of 25, catching the post-war baby boom wave with a Washington, D.C. children’s furniture shop. A toy specialty store followed in 1957, and his category killer merchandising concept would eventually carry the chain around the world.
Lazarus took the company public in 1978 and led it until 1994. Eleven years later affiliates of Bain Capital, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Vornado Realty Trust took it private in a leveraged buyout that buried it in $6.6 billion of debt.
The debt load, compounded by competition from Walmart, Amazon and the Internet, plus a revolving door of management teams, ultimately did Toys“R”Us in. It filed for bankruptcy in September and begins going-out-of-business sales today.
“There have been many sad moments for Toys“R”Us in recent weeks,” the retailer said in a statement, “and none more heartbreaking than today’s news about the passing of our beloved founder, Charles Lazarus, after a period of declining health.
“He visited us in New Jersey just last year and we will forever be grateful for his positive energy, passion for the customer and love for children everywhere. Our thoughts and prayers are with Charles’ family and loved ones.”
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