Jeff Brotman, Founder of Retail Juggernaut Costco, Dies at 74

Mr. Brotman went on to obtain critical financing from a venture capitalist, Fred Paulsell, whom he had met when their plane was struck by lightning and made an emergency landing.

Their first Costco warehouse store opened in Seattle in 1983 (the same year Sam Walton opened Sam’s Club); the company merged with Price Club a decade later.

It soon became a global retailing juggernaut by offering consumer goods at rock-bottom prices (from 20-cent diapers in boxes of 198 to rotisserie chickens that it sold at a loss for $4.99), sticking to a no-frills inventory, and encouraging customer loyalty with annual membership fees.

Costco was the world’s largest retailer of a wide range of products, including organic foods and wine, in recent years. The company took in about $120 billion last year, its revenues second only to Walmart (although Costco was recently bumped to third place by Amazon).

“Jeff understood immediately that there was an opening there,” his brother, Michel, told The Seattle Times this week. “The Price Club idea appealed even to people with money — the idea of being able to buy value at the right price. It wasn’t about buying cheap. It was about buying good value.”

While Mr. Sinegal was largely the public face of the company as its chief executive until 2012, Mr. Brotman served as its less visible chairman from the beginning. He became expert in scouting the most profitable locations for Costco’s warehouse stores, which now number 736 worldwide.

The two partners shared a feel-good philosophy, epitomized by their motto, “Do the right thing.” The company’s unusually generous salaries and benefits for workers rankled Wall Street stock analysts, and the partners publicly characterized their retail rivals as Scrooges (although the company settled discrimination suits by women who said they had been passed over for promotions).

Jeffrey Hart Brotman, a grandson of Jewish immigrants from Romania, was born on Sept. 27, 1942, in Tacoma, Wash., to Pearl and Bernard Brotman. His Canadian-born father owned Seattle Knitting Mills and, with his brothers, a chain of haberdashers called Bernie’s in Washington and Oregon.

Mr. Brotman earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Washington in 1964 and graduated from its law school in 1967.

After practicing law only briefly, he and his brother opened a women’s jeans store named Bottoms and later a chain of men’s clothing stores called Jeffrey Michael. Jeff Brotman was also an early investor in other retail ventures, including Starbucks, which went on to build a coffee empire from its base in Seattle.

Mr. Brotman married the former Susan Thrailkill, an executive for Nordstrom department stores, whom he met on a blind date. Besides his brother, Mr. Brotman is survived by his wife; their son, Justin; their daughter, Amanda Brotman-Schetritt, and two grandchildren.

Mr. Brotman also drew attention as a campaign fund-raiser for Democratic candidates and, with his wife, as a philanthropist whose beneficiaries included the University of Washington and the Seattle Art Museum.

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