The Life of Charles Lazarus and his Toy Business

On this day, October 4 in the year 1923, the pioneer in toy retailing was born in Washington, D. C., USA. His name was Charles Lazarus, the founder of Toys “R” Us, once the largest toy retailer in the world.

Charles Lazarus
Charles Lazarus (Credit:

Charles Lazarus was the son of bicycle shop owner. As a child, he worked as a helper in his father’s shop. During World War II, he served in the United States Army as a cryptographer. In 1948 with $5000 in capital, he opened a baby furniture store which he called Children Bargain Town in his father’s garage. Soon, customers were asking for toys and Charles realized business is just about giving what the customers wanted. He then restructured his business to resemble that of a supermarket where there is a great assortment of goods and customers use a cart to gather the items they wanted to buy. In 1952, Charles applied the big box concept to toy retailing by building his first toy store, supermarket-style. With wide assortment of toys offered at a discount, sales rapidly increased.

In 1957, Charles Lazarus started using the iconic Toys “R” Us with the “R” written backwards to give the impression of a kid’s first steps in learning how to write. By 1966, he was operating four big stores. He sold the business to Interstate Department Stores for $7.5 million but with an assurance that he continue to manage it. In 1974, Interstate filed for bankruptcy although Toy “R” Us was profitable. Luckily, the court allowed him to oversee the restructuring and four years later, Interstate was back on its feet. It was renamed Toys “R” Us because all the other unprofitable businesses were either sold off or discontinued.

Charles Lazarus remained CEO of the company until 1994. In 1978, the company was listed at the New York Stock Exchange but it became a private company in 2005. The company is now owned by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Bain Capital, Vornado Realty Trust. It began its international expansion in 1984 with its first branch in Canada and a licensed store in Singapore. On September 18, 2017, the company filed for bankruptcy although some international branches remained operating.


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