Charles Lazarus, the 94-year-old founder of Toys R Us, died Thursday, about a week after the company announced it would file liquidation papers and likely close all of its U.S. operations. Toys R Us filed for bankruptcy in September.
In a tweet, the company announced Lazarus’ death, saying there had been “many sad moments” recently but none more upsetting than the death of its founder.
Lazarus founded Toys R Us in June 1957, nine years after he opened his first baby furniture and toy store in Washington, D.C., called Children’s Bargain Town. After nearly a decade running Children’s Bargain Town, Lazarus restructured his business, decided to focus solely on toys and reformatted the store to take after a supermarket, so customers could see open shelves of toys and place desired items in shopping carts.
In the ’80s, Toys R Us went international, opening locations all over the world. During the company’s closing announcement last week, administrators for the retailer said it planned to close all 75 stores in the U.K. The widespread shutdowns will affect roughly 3,000 employees in the U.K., and about 31,000 in the U.S. There are 791 remaining Toys R Us locations in America.
The company had about $5 billion in long-term debt when it filed for bankruptcy in September. When Toys R Us first entered Chapter 11, it had an ambitious plan to restructure and reemerge a healthy business. But after a weak holiday season performance coupled with intense competition from rivals including Amazon, Target and Walmart seemed to do the company in, according to USA Today.
Lazarus had no stake in Toys R Us at the time of his death, CNN reported, but the toy industry titan served as CEO of the business until 1994.
In a statement to HuffPost, a Toys R Us spokesperson reiterated the sadness the company felt after Lazarus’ death, adding, “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.”