Toys “R” Us: From Adams Morgan to K Street, Then to the Suburbs and the World

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As a 68-year-old lifelong resident of DC, I seem to remember a Toys “R” Us on the 500 block of K Street NW. Is this a “false” memory?

— James Aukard, Washington

In 1987, the highest paid CEO in the United States was not Chrysler’s chief Lee Iacocca, who made a paltry $17.7 million. it was not Jim Manzi of Lotus Development Corp. ($26.3 million).

It was a toy salesman from Washington. His name was Charles Lazarus and his annual fee was $60 million.

Toys had been very, very good to him.

The short answer is, yes, there used to be a toy store at 501 K St. NW. Answer Man can’t be sure it ever called Toys “R” Us, but it was an early outpost of the Lazarus Empire, a precursor to the chain that would spread across the world, delighting countless children and would change the way toys are changed. sold.

The story of Toys “R” Us actually begins about two miles away, at 2461 18th St. NW in Adams Morgan. That’s true Frank and Fannie Lazarus ran a business called the National Sports Shop. The couple sold bicycles, with an emphasis on refurbishing used bicycles.

In 1949, a Washington Post reader wrote to the newspaper’s consumer columnist if anyone in town was repairing baby walkers. The reader was directed to that address of Adams Morgan, where, wrote The Post columnist, repairs were made to “every kind of wheel goods, specializing in prams, prams, and walkers.”

Frank and Fannie’s son Charles had served in the military as a cryptographer. After World War II, Charles returned to the district and threw himself at a business opportunity. In 1948, reasoning that a post-war baby boom would be good for child-related retail, he began selling baby furniture from his parents’ sports store.

Lazarus soon realized that baby furniture wasn’t generating the kind of regular sales that translated into steady sales. As he later explained to the trade magazine DSN Retailing Today: “The toy trade was a bit of an accident. I started out selling a few baby toys and realized that customers weren’t buying a different crib or high chair or playpen as their family grew, but they were buying toys for every child.”

By 1952, the National Sports Shop on 18th Street had parked the bicycles and transformed it into the National Baby Shop. That year, an ad in The Post promised American Flyer Trains a 20 percent discount.

In May 1956, a retail store called the Children’s Supermart opened at 501 K St. NW near Mount Vernon Square. It was a 40,000-square-foot warehouse-style toy store that promised “the LOWEST PRICES in the US,” according to a large ad in The Post.

Directly above that Children’s Supermart ad was a separate ad for Lazarus’ 18th Street store. It had lost the National Baby Shop name and apparently continued under the Baby Supermarket name. “Buying thousands from Baby Supermarket,” the ad boasted. “There must be a reason.”

The ad then noted, “This is our only location – we have no branches.”

Answer Man isn’t sure why the two stores tried to keep their distance from each other. The K Street store was run by Lazarus’ brother-in-law and co-investor, a tax attorney named S. Walter Shine† Perhaps Lazarus was testing names or concepts.

According to the toy giant’s corporate history, the Toys “R” Us name — the R rendered backwards, as if drawn by a child — made its debut in 1957. Answer Man isn’t so sure. In October 1958, Lazarus had dropped the pretense that the 18th Street and K Street stores were separate businesses. He opened what an ad called “our third and largest youth discount grocery store” on Rockville Pike. This was called Bargaintown USA, where “Every day is discount day!”

Rocking horses were 33 percent off. Viewmasters selling for $2.50 elsewhere were $1.82. Bikes – “biggest and best selection anywhere!” – started at $24.94. Perhaps that appealed to Lazarus, who grew up above a bicycle shop.

Two years later, a fourth location — called Children’s Supermart — opened at Baileys Crossroads. An Evening Star reporter wrote that the growing Lazarus chain had “thrown the book out” with its approach to retail, adding: “The Dewy Giraffe trademarked stores offered no credit, no delivery, no carpeting and a each-for-itself battlefield as the Christmas rush began.”

It wasn’t until 1964 that Answer Man saw the Toys “R” Us name pop up in newspaper ads.

Founder Charles Lazarus died in 2018 at the age of 94. The toy giant has had its ups and downs over the years. The latest incarnation includes Toys “R” Us branded sections in Macy’s stores.

Today, the Adams Morgan row house where it all started sells something more mature. The bar Madam’s Organ is located in the former National Baby Shop.

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