Jeff Brotman, Costco founder, dies aged 74
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Jeff Brotman, Costco founder, dies aged 74

Jewish philanthropist said he learned values of helping disadvantaged, encouraging diversity, from his parents, rabbi

In this April 24, 2003, photo, Jeff Brotman, Chairman of Costco Wholesale Corporation, speaks during a news conference at the University of Washington in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ralph Radford)
In this April 24, 2003, photo, Jeff Brotman, Chairman of Costco Wholesale Corporation, speaks during a news conference at the University of Washington in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ralph Radford)

Jeff Brotman, who co-founded the members-only retail giant Costco and was the chairman of its board of directors, has died at his home outside Seattle.

Costco Wholesale Corp. said Brotman died early Tuesday at 74. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Raised in Tacoma, Washington, Brotman formed Costco in 1982 with partner James Sinegal. By 2016 the retail chain had 85 million members and $9 billion in annual sales, making it the country’s third largest retail chain after Amazon and Wal-Mart.

Brotman was an active philanthropist, donating to the arts and health-related causes and to Democratic political candidates. He also supported Jewish causes, and frequently cited the influence of his childhood rabbi, the late Richard Rosenthal of Temple Beth Israel in Tacoma.

In 2014 he donated nearly $1 million to Temple Beth El in Tacoma to build a preschool and day care. The synagogue was formed after the merger of his childhood congregation and another local synagogue.

“The congregation launched me into being a responsible adult,” Brotman told The News Tribune of Tacoma at the time. “I was interested in doing something for them where I thought it would have a major impact.”

Brotman’s grandparents emigrated from Romania to Saskatchewan, Canada. His father Bernie Brotman operated a chain of retail stores in Washington and Oregon.

Jeff Brotman earned a degree in political science from the University of Washington and attended the University of Washington School of Law. He and his brother, Michael, started Bottoms, a jeans store for young women, and Jeffrey Michael, a chain of men’s stores.

He was an early investor in Howard Schultz’s Starbucks coffee empire and was involved in several other retail ventures

He and Sinegal opened their first Costco warehouse in 1983 in Seattle. The company now operates 736 warehouses around the world

He was married to former Nordstrom executive Susan Brotman.

Brotman was a supporter of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.

“Helping the disadvantaged, encouraging diversity, fostering a community that treats its people well — these were values I learned from my parents as well as in Sunday school, values from Rabbi Richard Rosenthal, my rabbi at Temple Beth El, and my grandfather, who helped with the movement to plant trees in Israel,” Brotman said, in a statement that appears on the federation’s web site. “When I see some of the fundamental unfairness built into the system for people who are less fortunate, and couple that with my family’s tradition of helping others, I am compelled to act, compelled to give what I can to help.”

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