The Lazarus Family: Sold on the City

They came from Columbus, but we still consider the Lazarus family to be ours. Lizards and all.

In 1928, the Columbus-based F. & R. Lazarus Company (named for sons Fred and Ralph) purchased Cincinnati’s John Shillito Company. The next year, Lazarus joined forces with retailers Abraham & Straus, Bloomingdale’s, and Filene’s of Boston to create what would become Federated Department Stores. When Fred Lazarus Jr. became chairman of Federated in 1945, he moved the company headquarters to Cincinnati, and “the Lazari” hit the ground running.

Fred Jr.’s wife, Celia, headed the Cincinnati League of Women Voters in the 1950s; horrified by conditions at Longview State Hospital in Bond Hill, she advocated for better facilities for the mentally ill. Their son Ralph (that’s him far left in 1950, with his uncle Robert Sr. and his cousin Charles) cofounded the Cincinnati Business Committee. And Ralph’s brother Simon became president of the Cincinnati Bar Association and a legal advocate for the poor.

Then there was the power couple of Fred III and his wife, Irma. Irma helped found the Ohio Arts Council and for 35 years hosted Conversations with Irma on WCET, using it as a platform to promote the arts.

Up in Columbus, Robert Jr., the last family member in the Federated Department Stores (now known as Macy’s), handed over the reins in 2002 and died in December 2013. The other Lazari have left retail, and many have left the area. But the family legacy of community service remains.

Also remaining: the Lazarus lizards, those critters you find sunning on walls in Hyde Park and points east. According to George Rau, Fred Jr.’s stepson, in 1951 he snuck about 10 lizards into a sock during a family vacation in northern Italy. When he got home, he let them go. They liked Cincinnati’s climate as much as Italy’s, multiplied, and spread. The invasive Podarcis muralis (“wall lizard”) became so ubiquitous that it is now considered by many to be an indigenous species. Take that, Columbus.

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