Toys 'R' Us founder dies as iconic retail chain folds

Toys 'R' Us founder Charles Lazarus (second from right) at the 2001 opening of the chain's store in New York City's Times Square. With him are other company executives at that time. Mr Lazarus died on Thursday, a week after the company announced the
Toys 'R' Us founder Charles Lazarus (second from right) at the 2001 opening of the chain's store in New York City's Times Square. With him are other company executives at that time. Mr Lazarus died on Thursday, a week after the company announced the end of its operations in the United States. He was 94.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

LOS ANGELES • The founder of the embattled Toys 'R' Us chain of children's stores died on Thursday, a week after the company announced the end of its operations in the United States.

"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, after a period of declining health," the company said in a statement.

Mr Lazarus, who was 94, had long since given up day-to-day running of the company he founded in 1948 as a small childcare store that evolved into one of the world's most recognisable children's brands.

"He was the father of the toy business," said Mr Michael Goldstein, who succeeds Mr Lazarus as chief executive. "He knew the toys and loved the toys, and loved the kids who would shop in the stores. His face lit up when he watched kids playing with toys."

Toys 'R' Us announced a week ago that it was liquidating its US operations - shutting down all 735 stores in a move that could slash 33,000 jobs, a victim of the online retail boom.

A retail force in the 1980s, it also faced pressure from larger stores with deeper discounts and was taken private in 2005 by a consortium of investors that included the KKR Group and Bain Capital.

The move saddled the firm with billions of dollars of debt, leading to a chain of events that ultimately resulted in the motion to liquidate.

MGA Entertainment, which makes Little Tikes toys, and other unnamed investors had personally pledged US$200 million (S$263 million) to raise four times that through a GoFundMe campaign aimed at saving Toys 'R' US.

The goal is to raise US$1 billion, which will be used in a bid to acquire all or some Toys 'R' Us assets through the bankruptcy process, according to a statement issued on billionaire Isaac Larian's behalf.

Mr Larian has pledged to also commit 10 per cent of all proceeds from Little Tikes purchases made between Thursday and the end of the crowdfunding campaign, according to the statement.

"If there is no Toys 'R' Us, I don't think there is a toy business," he said.

"There is nothing quite like the joy and awe of a child walking through the aisles of a Toys 'R' Us store. I want to preserve that innocent experience for future generations. We can't sit back and just let it disappear. Everyone deserves to be a Toys 'R' Us kid."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2018, with the headline 'Toys 'R' Us founder dies as iconic retail chain folds'. Print Edition | Subscribe