Gina Zangrillo never set out to work at the Darien Sport Shop, a business her father started back in 1946. She was in the telecommunications industry in Manhattan, enjoying her job and her routine. But while on maternity leave—and a week out from giving birth to her second child—she made a quick stop by the store.
“I pulled in to say hello and [my dad] walked up to the car and said, ‘How’d you like to come work for me?’” A former employee was retiring and her father, Stephen, thought she would do well at the store. “And I said to him, ‘Well, I have a job’—and by the way, I had a very good job,” she says.
But Zangrillo’s interest was piqued and she decided to go for it.
“I get here and I’m here three days and I have this incredible revelation about my father and how he built this from nothing—without an education—and this is where he was my whole life,” the Darien resident says now, 27 years later. “And I connected so well with that feeling and devotion for the business, that I had it— and I had it two-fold, because not only did I fall in love with the business, but I wanted to carry it on.”
The family business is currently a three-story, 45,000-square-foot store on Post Road in Darien, CT. (The original, one-room store on the same street was adjacent to the train station, says Zangrillo.)
“When I got here in ’94, the Darien Sport Shop was the only game in town,” she says, explaining that there were very few other shops. But of course, the retail business has changed over the years, and Zangrillo has had to change with it. “My father, I think, bought and sold more as a convenience to the Darien customer,” she says. He carried everything from men’s suits to tennis rackets. Zangrillo buys for and sells to a very savvy customer that has choices. “So we need to be at the top of our game,” she says. “ We have to have the lat- est and the greatest.”
That includes mainstays like Vince, Theory, Peter Millar and Vineyard Vines (two brothers who walked into the shop with ties in their knapsack and today have a nationally known, successful brand), as well as up-and-comers like Kerri Rosenthal, a designer out of Westport, CT. “My job is to just surprise and delight the customer,” she says.
The business continues to make strides—and has now extended into the next generation, with Zangrillo’s son, Greg, joining the business last year.
For the future? “Staying true to the original mission that my father set out [to create] 75 years ago,” says Zangrillo. “And that was to take care of the customer, support the community, and continue to make the shopping experience here as great as it possibly can be for our wonderful community and surrounding towns.”