Costco co-founder Jeff Brotman dead at 74; helped build Issaquah-based retailer into global giant

Jeff Brotman, Costco’s co-founder and chairman of its board, died early Tuesday morning, the company said.

Jeff Brotman, Costco’s co-founder and chairman of its board, who helped build Costco into a global retailing powerhouse, died early Tuesday morning, the company said.

“The thoughts of Costco’s board, management and employees are with Jeff’s wife and family,” Costco said in a statement.

Brotman, 74, died during his sleep at his home in Medina, said his brother, Michel Brotman.

The cause of death wasn’t immediately known. “We assume his heart just stopped working,” Michel Brotman said.

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The Brotman brothers grew up in a retailing family in Tacoma. Their father, Bernard Brotman, founded Bernie’s Mens Wear in Tacoma, as well as Bottoms women’s store and other stores.

It was Bernard Brotman who came upon Price Club, a warehouse store serving small businesses that had opened in 1976 in San Diego, and told his son, Jeff, “You should do this,” Michel Brotman recalled.

“Jeff understood immediately that there was an opening there,” he said. “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.”

Jeff, along with Jim Sinegal, a former Price Club executive who went on to become CEO of Costco, co-founded Costco, opening the first warehouse in Seattle in 1983.

Costco and Price Club merged in 1993, with the combined company initially operating under the name PriceCostco and generating $16 billion in annual sales at 206 locations, according to Costco.

“On occasion, you will see a store run a loss-leader, where it reflects the same price as ours. But day after day, you can’t find cheaper prices than here,” Brotman said in a 1983 Seattle Times story about the then-new warehouse store and its strategy.

Costco has since become one of the world’s largest retailers, usually coming in No. 2 behind Wal-Mart. Last fiscal year, the company generated revenue of $118.72 billion, and profit of $2.35 billion. It currently operates 736 warehouses, 511 of them in the United States, and has expanded into Mexico, Asia and Europe.

“Jeff was not interested in just a store,” Michel Brotman said. “He always thought much bigger than I did. He wouldn’t have been attracted to an idea that would’ve been limited to the…

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