Toys 'R' Us sues small Houston Toyz store owned by immigrant family

Miya Shay Image
Friday, September 2, 2022
Toys'R'Us files suit against Houston mom-and-pop toy store over logo
Two decades of growth have taken a family, who immigrated to America, from a small space in Sharpstown to a high-profile spot in The Galleria. But that growth may be threatened by a popular chain.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Attorneys for the new owners of Toys 'R' Us are turning one Houston family's American dream into a litigious nightmare. They are suing the family for trademark infringement, but the family is fighting back.

The video above is ABC13's 24/7 livestream.

On the second floor of the Houston Galleria, the Afzal family sees its Toyz store as the culmination of the American dream.

"My mom started this about 20 years ago, in 2003." Muhammad Afzal said as he remembered the time when his mother Farida opened the small toy shop in Sharpstown Mall.

"I didn't know how to run the store. The mall manager helped a lot," Farida Afzal, who immigrated to Houston with her family from Pakistan many years ago, recalled.

Growing the business wasn't easy, but they eventually opened seven stores in the Houston area, including a small one in the Galleria Mall.

"We were right downstairs. Same mall. Same everything. You could see us downstairs, nobody ever came to us," Muhammad said, adding that the two stores coexisted in the mall until Toys 'R' Us filed for bankruptcy.

When Toys 'R' Us went belly up and moved out of the mall, the Galleria management gave the Afzal family a chance to expand. They moved the Toyz store to the former Toys 'R' Us location, and continued operating.

Then in 2021, out of nowhere, the family got a multi-page cease and desist letter from Toys 'R' Us' new owners. In the letter, attorneys at Houston's Baker Botts firm told the Afzals their Toyz logo was multi-colored and in a bubble font, which is too similar to Toys 'R' Us. They also accused the family of keeping the old Toys 'R' Us décor in the store, confusing customers.

Within weeks, TRU brands, the parent company of Toys 'R' Us, filed suit.

"We are not a big, big company. We are a very small company. So I was very disturbed. I cannot eat. I cannot sleep," Farida Afzal said.

But if Toys 'R' Us thought this Houston grandmother and her kids were just going to bend at the will of a New York private equity company, they were wrong.

"We were very surprised because, in our opinion, the Toyz logo didn't look anything like the Toys 'R' Us logo," Lema Barazi, partner at the Lloyd & Mousilli law firm, said.

The family hired Barazi and fought back in federal court. Among the many filings, the family pointed out that Toys 'R' Us never cleaned or cleared their Galleria store when they went belly up. They said that they did not want to be associated with Toys 'R' Us, citing the messy bankruptcy.

Both sides went into mediation but were not able to reach an agreement. Barazi said the family is not willing to change their logo, just because Toys 'R' Us' new corporate owners are demanding it.

"We have a huge global corporation trying to fight and shut down a mom-and-pop shop," Barazi said. "By having questionable allegations that, frankly, hold no water."

Barazi said the federal judge on the case has hit the pause button on the case until mid-September. It is requiring Toys 'R' Us' lawyers to produce a full count of how many similar lawsuits it has filed around the world, pressuring other small toy stores.

ABC13 contacted the Houston attorney representing Toys 'R' Us, as well as its corporate ownership in New York. As of Thursday evening, we have not heard back from them.

As for the Afzal family, they had to shrink the stores a bit because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, they run three stores, as well as an online presence.

They would like to focus on just selling toys for the holiday season.

"We want Toys 'R' Us to just go away," Farida Afzal said.

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