Sometime early in his 1994 United States Senate campaign against Frank Lautenberg, Assembly Speaker Chuck Haytaian got a meeting with Charles Lazarus, the Toys R Us founder who passed away yesterday at age 94. Lazarus was a Democrat, but his company was based in New Jersey where Republicans controlled just about everything. Haytaian wanted Lazarus to help him raise money.
If you entered New Jersey politics after 2001 and don’t remember Haytaian, now 80, here’s what you need to know: he was completely and totally unpretentious. He grew up in the Bronx and moved to Hackettstown to run his father-in-law’s dry-cleaning business. Nothing slick, suave or sophisticated about him.
Haytaian arrived in Paramus, where Toys R Us – coming off a 10% increase in sales and with 835 thriving retail stores worldwide – had its corporate headquarters. He was running a little early, so he stopped at one of the shopping malls and came across a low-end men’s store – I think it was Rogers – that was going out of business and had heavily discounted their already cheap suits.
The story I heard was that after shopping, Haytaian arrives at Toys R Us and is ushered into the billionaire Lazarus’ office, where the first thing he said was something like: “Charlie, you’ve got to get down to the mall. I just bought four suits for $250, but they don’t have a lot left. You need to go there right away.”
On a serious note: Lazarus’ death comes a week after the Wayne-based company announced it was shutting down their U.S. stores. That’ll leave more than 1,600 New Jerseyans without a job. Since the company is based in the 11th district, it will be interesting to see how long it takes for either Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen or any of his potential successors mention this issue.