Toys “R” Us founder Charles Lazarus passed away Thursday at 94, the company confirmed in a statement. The news comes the same month the toy company announced it would close or sell all of its stores 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,” the statement obtained by PEOPLE reads. “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.”
The statement continues: “Our thoughts and prayers are with Charles’ family and loved ones.”
After seven decades, the toy retailer announced earlier this month that it is closing down or selling all of its 735 stores in the United States. The store held on to hope it would be able to rebuild its brand when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year after accumulating more than $5 billion in debt, but with competition from the likes of Amazon and Walmart the company’s future was already in the cards.
“Walmart had a better online experience,” industry analyst Jim Silver told CNN. “Target had a better online experience … They lost online and they didn’t adapt.”
The once iconic retailer can trace its beginnings to 1948, when Lazarus opened a baby furniture store in Washington D.C. when he was just 25.
But as the company notes in a profile of its history, Lazarus quickly realized that what was drawing the most attention wasn’t the furniture, but the toys. The young entrepreneur then had an idea that was radical at the time — he would create a store that sold toys, and only toys.
In 1957, Lazarus opened the first Toys “R” Us store, and changed the way families across the country shopped for their children during the holiday season and beyond. Lazarus guided the chain as it expanded and became one of America’s preeminent shopping destinations, until he stepped down as CEO in 1994.