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Inside the Rise and Fall of Toys ‘R’ Us

March 19, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Charles Lazarus, founder of Toys R Us. (Credit: Jacques M. Chenet/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

It was 1948, and Charles Lazarus had a hunch. Newly returned from World War II, he knew he wanted to go into business, and he knew—long before the term “baby boom” was a common phrase—that his friends were about to start having lots of babies.

“Everyone I talked to said they were going to go home, get married, have children and live the American dream,” he told Entrepreneur in 2008. “I decided that I would open a store in my father’s bicycle-repair shop. But instead of selling bikes, I would sell cribs, carriages, strollers, high chairs—everything for the baby. My instincts told me the timing was right.”

Those instincts didn’t just help Lazarus capitalize on the baby boom: They helped originate Toys ‘R’ Us. Once a retail juggernaut, the store dominated the entire toy industry—and children’s imaginations—by driving its competitors out of existence.

Now, the retail giant has been forced into bankruptcy, the victim of a retail model it helped pioneer. In March 2017, the 70-year-old business announced that it would call it quits. It was the end of an era for the store that once held a lock on the entire toy industry and made toy shopping—once a seasonal treat—into a regular family outing.

Charles Lazarus, founder of Toys R Us. (Credit: Jacques M. Chenet/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Lazarus opened his first store, Children’s Bargain Town, in Washington, D.C. in 1948. Specializing in baby goods, it only began selling toys once Lazarus realized customers didn’t come back for more strollers, high chairs and other baby goods with their second child. He started selling a few inexpensive toys, then added to his inventory as they proved popular.

But Lazarus wasn’t content to stop with a single store. He had an idea that was bigger than Children’s Bargain Town or any kids’ store he had ever seen—a massive store filled with every toy in existence. In 1957, he got out of the baby furniture business, renamed his company Toys ‘R’ Us and created the first ever big-box toy store.

The new megastore took a supermarket-style approach to toy selling, which distinguished it from every other toy store in existence. Most toy stores were small and family-run, and only carried a limited line of products. Lazarus’ stores, on the …read more


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