GINA ZANGRILLO - RETAIL LEGEND
Rowland Hussey Macy. Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Warren Roebuck. George Draper Dayton. Marvin Traub, who ran Bloomingdale’s in its heyday. The Gindi brothers from Brooklyn who founded Century 21.
These retail legends are all famous for having operated great ‘department stores’ featuring high-fashion goods…but, not coincidentally, they’re all men!?!?
To put Gina Zangrillo’s career as a woman-in-business, operating her family’s Darien Sport Shop for the last 28 years, in context…it’s time Gina is recognized as a legend in the high-fashion retail hall of fame.
Although Darien Sport Shop carries gear and equipment for skiing, lacrosse, baseball, pickleball, and just about every yard game and other outdoor activity – like everything YETI you could possibly use – the ‘sport shop’ is only a small part – on the third floor – of what this modern-day specialty department store has to offer.
Walking in the door at 1127 Post Road in Darien, it’s quite clear this is a lot more than a sporting goods store, as the lobby is beautifully decorated featuring the trends of each season. The first-floor women’s selection includes shoes, jewelry, sunglasses, leather goods, and designer sportswear, catering to the customer’s wide range of needs from casual to dressy with names like, Ulla Johnson, Kinross, A.L.C., Vince, Loeffler Randall, and Frank & Eileen. The men’s side is a one-stop shop for every gentleman and every season. From sportswear to tailored clothing to shoes, there’s a complete selection from name brands like Peter Millar, Faherty, johnnie-o, Hickey Freeman, and AG. You can get the perfect sportcoat, just the right pair of slacks, the softest golf shirts – and in everything, just the right mix between classic and fashion, conservative but also sometimes slightly out of the comfort zone.
The second level is fully devoted to dressing women for every day, as well as the Home & Gift shop. The ever-changing, carefully curated offering presently includes lines from popular designers including Faherty, Kerri Rosenthal, AGolde, The Great, Citizens of Humanity, Alex Mill, Velvet, AMO, lem lem, Sundry, and Nili Lotan, among others. And there’s a cute shop with candles from NEST, candy from Sugarfina, and a selection of gift items from frames to home furnishings.
When the customer reaches the top level, the ‘sport shop’ in the name begins to make sense. The third floor is home to the legendary Ski Shop that has been a mainstay since the ‘60s. Featuring ski equipment and apparel beginning early fall through the winter, this shop transitions to the home of spring and summer sports. Complimenting the ‘sporting goods’ is the athletic apparel department, a move Gina made a few years ago as the athleisure trend took hold. Featuring high-end brands like Rhone, RLX, Vuori, Darien Sport Shop is also a lululemon authorized retailer. And, in addition to the ‘sport shop’, the third floor also includes a complete kids department, with specialty brands like johnnie-o, Vineyard Vines, Ralph Lauren, Mayoral and Veja sneakers for boys and girls.
Gina is upbeat, confident, direct, and…busy! Running Darien Sport Shop, even with the oldest of her three children, Greg, in the fold, is a 24/7 job. Keeping Darien Sport Shop at the forefront of fashion, and out in front of an ever-changing retail environment and all kinds of competition, season after season and year after year, is a Herculean task.
About being ‘Zangrillo’ – and the long history of Darien Sport Shop in Darien – Gina says, “This store has been synonymous with my family my entire life. My dad, Steve Zangrillo who was born and raised in Darien, opened the first ‘Darien Sport Shop’ in 1946, He then acquired our current location in 1954, which has transformed in size and scope over the years. I was always proud of my dad, his incredibly tenacious work ethic, his knack for knowing what would sell as a merchant, and the way he ran the store. I marveled at how he built this enduring institution from nothing, and I learned from him that, ‘with hard work, you can make any idea a reality’. But by the time I graduated from Darien High School, I felt it was important for me to go and be Gina.”
“I got a degree from a design school in Atlanta and was qualified to do absolutely nothing. I took a job as a receptionist and, three months later, I answered an ad for a job selling jewelry out of the back of my car. Pulling up to an office building and walking-in cold to office after office to sell close-out merchandise…I learned a lot about life and everything about sales. Then I went to work in telecommunications at MCI, and climbed the ranks there quite quickly. I was part of implementing one of the first telecommunication programs for them, and I was successful in what I happily found to be a pretty enlightened corporate environment. It was thirty years ago, and my mentor at MCI was a very strong woman!”
“In 1994, I was in Darien visiting my dad at the store – 9 months pregnant with my second child, Douglas – and my dad asked me to come to work for him. I was much more mature then when I’d left Darien and had gained a world of relevant experience…and an appreciation for what my dad had built. When I started, I instituted one of the first retail customer loyalty programs, and I quickly realized my dad was ready for me to take the lead. Running the store has been my life ever since.”
About the store’s success during her tenure, Gina says, “I’ve worked hard to make Darien Sport Shop the coolest place in town, to carry great products for the entire family, and stay in the forefront of fashion. I have a team of talented buyers who comb the marketplace to find the kind of classic merchandise that the customer is expecting, while also looking to surprise and delight. We stock key brands like Peter Millar and johnnie-o, but we also carry new and trendy brands like Ulla Johnson, Greyson, and Nili Lotan. My philosophy is that if we listen to the customer and remain true to ourselves at the same time, Darien Sport Shop will always do well.”
With a touch of moxie, Gina adds, “My dad used to worry, like every smaller retailer worried, when the big stores like Bloomingdale’s were ascendant, that they were going to push us out of business – but we weathered that era with an offering more closely aligned with our customers’ tastes and sensibilities. He wouldn’t open for business on Sunday like all the others, because he felt his employees needed a break. And everyone would fret each time another retailer would open a store down the street – but Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor Loft, Joseph A. Banks, Brooks Brothers, and Sports Authority have all come and gone. We’ve endured The Westchester, the Stamford Mall, and more recently the SONO Mall. It all made us stronger. …And online shopping is certainly a pressure – but, you know, our customers like the experience of shopping in our store.”
About being a leading woman-in-business, Gina remarks, “I think I have the same sort of hard work ethic and no-nonsense attitude as my dad did. I’ve never really felt I should try to do things differently because I’m a woman. I do give young women, including my daughter Allison, the advice that they should work hard and have the drive to get everything they want for themselves. And when it comes to hiring, we hire whoever is right for the job, and what’s critical to me is that we have a fun and happy place to work. Good people are our differentiator, and the way our people interact with our customers really sets us apart.”
And as for the future, Gina jokes, “Well I’m not retiring, if that’s what you mean. We’re about to redo the facade of our building and do some renovations inside to keep it fresh and modern. And we’re active on social media and have gotten more digital savvy in an effort to attract new, younger customers that hopefully will come back to us for a long time. As for succession, I’d point out that Greg came into the family business after gaining valuable business experience on his own, as I did. He’s as passionate about the store and our customers as I was when I came into the business. And for our store to continue to thrive and remain true to its core values, we need the next generation to carry on the legacy. That was very important to my dad – and it’s important to me too.”
We stopped by Darien Sport Shop for the YWCA Fashion Show to see this years’ hottest wears showcased by notable local residents and area-influencers:
Jordan Castellani in Ulla Johnson and Gina Gromelski in Birds of Paradis.
Darien High School students and Darien Sport Shop employees: Colby Dineen, Caroline Nicholls, Maggie Crotty, and Cabot Smith were all smiles in A.L.C., Kerri Rosenthal, lululemon and Sundry.
Local influencer, designer, and stylist, Ruth Stiefel (aka @stylinitbyruth) emceed the fun charity gathering.
New Canaan High School alums Henry Corcoran (left) and Jake Granito (right) posed before they hit the runway in their looks from Alex Mill and Hickey Freeman.
Greg Reilly, Gina’s oldest son and the store’s men’s buyer, escorts Kelly Scallon of the YWCA in a navy gown from A.L.C.