A chat with...Gina Zangrillo
“One distinct memory I have is 1963. He was about to open his ski shop on the third floor which was a little bit of his pride and joy. He really wanted it to be like a ski lodge and he was having a grand opening party,” Zangrillo said. “And it was the day the president [Kennedy] was assassinated. He was devastated for that reason and here was the day he invited everyone to his grand opening and the world stopped. I remember that year distinctly.”
Growing up, Zangrillo, now the president of the store her father founded, said she was baffled by her father’s devotion to his business. It wasn’t until she started working for her father as an adult in 1994 that she began to understand why he loved it so much. After giving birth to her second child, Zangrillo left her corporate job to work as a bookkeeper at the shop. From there, she too fell in love with the business. She began running the store for her father by the late nineties.
“It sucked me in so quickly,” Zangrillo said. “I was so engrossed in the business and I realized for the first time in my life where my dad had been his whole life. Understanding all this, it really sucked me in [like] ‘Wow, Dad built this from nothing.”
Darien Sport Shop was founded in 1946 as a one room store where Dunkin Donuts is now in downtown Darien. Four years later, the shop moved to the other end of the shopping center, where Zangrillo was able to get two storefronts and expand the size of his store. In 1954, the shop moved to the corner of Post Road and Leroy Ave, where it still stands today. In August, it celebrated its seventieth anniversary.
From the age of 12 on, Zangrillo and her siblings were expected to work at the store after school and on Saturdays. The part-time job never peaked her interest.
“[My dad] was really devoted to his business,” said Zangrillo. “He was very hands on and just watched people — what they bought and were wearing — and continued to follow trends. My mom used to complain my dad would constantly come home and say ‘I got to get bigger.”
But it’s also dedication that’s helped Darien Sport Shop stand the test of time. The elder Zangrillo stopped being part of the daily business of the store in 2008, but stayed involved until his death last year. He worked as a greeter and attended weekly business meetings on Thursday mornings up until the week before he died. In his later years, he got a pain pump for his spinal stenosis, so he could still stand and greet people at the front door of the shop, something he was known for among the customers.
“His world was Darien Sport Shop,” said Zangrillo. “All he wanted to do was keeping going. He could not accept the fact that he was getting older. This was his life. He was here, six days a week, every week of the year and my mom knew that. She knew it was always his first love and when this man started to have these pain issues we took him to every doctor cause he couldn’t accept it.”
Now, his daughter shows the same dedication to her father’s legacy, waking up in the middle of the night with ideas on how to improve the store and already thinking about which of her relatives might some day take the store over next.
“When you work for your dad, you work harder and are more devoted. This was his baby. It was like I had a baby in my arms,” she said. “I worked crazy hours and as he saw my abilities, he started to give me more and more responsibility. I really attribute my success here to a genetic trait. I believe he was a born merchant and I got some of that gene. I’ve worked here 22 years and I love it more every day.”