by Karen Alberg Grossman

“My father devoted his life to this business,” says Gina Zangrillo about Steve Zangrillo, the beloved founder of Darien Sport Shop. “At the end, when I’d sit with him in emotional talks re-living highlights of his life, he’d always ask ‘what about the kids?’ He so wanted them involved with the store to continue his legacy.”

Gina, known for her energy, exuberance, and candor as well as her personal style and business savvy, has been the store’s driving force for years but the family’s third-generation is already making a difference. Her son Greg Reilly is now the store’s marketing manager and has been busy getting the word out about this iconic store that’s much more about contemporary fashion than it is about sports.

“In the last six months,” notes Greg, “we’ve ramped up our organic social media presence on Instagram and Facebook. We’re becoming creative in the way we highlight the beautiful product we carry, using a variety of methods like lay-downs, on-body try-ons, stylists holding/wearing the product, and talking directly to customers about it. We have such a cool, well-merchandised vibe; by bringing it to life in the digital world, we’re driving traffic and increasing sales. We’re also working with local bloggers/influencers with strong followings in Darien and the surrounding towns, a great way to reach people who didn’t know about us, or didn’t know we carried so many contemporary brands.”

“We’ve also changed the look of our website from black and white ‘website design 101’ to on-brand color,” Greg adds. “I view our site as more a marketing/traffic-driving tool than a selling tool. That said, we’ve seen an uptick in web business, both locally and nationally, because so many of the brands Robin has brought into the store have such a great following. Having an online business is a no-brainer.”

Although holding events were tricky during the pandemic, Greg is now excited about hosting more. “We did a collaboration with Barvida, a new smoothie shop in town, that was a big hit. We’ve hosted two Pilates classes at the store in the last month and are planning meet & greets, food trucks, and other gatherings to enhance our customer experience and give people more reason to swing by. In terms of advertising, we’re now partnering with several key vendors, particularly (on the men’s side) Peter Millar, Johnnie-O, Rhone, Billy Reid, and Rodd & Gunn (also celebrating its 75th). Those brands (and many women’s brands) have generously helped support us through local publications and digital advertising. I believe our customer still has an appetite for print and we can reach them that way, but we’ve also started doing lots of digital.”

In planning this year’s 75th-anniversary celebration, Gina recalls their 60th gala in 2006 and her father’s reaction to it. “Stephen Zangrillo was a very humble man and our party was a bit over-the-top: ice sculptures, balloons, champagne–he wasn’t that kind of guy so was slightly uncomfortable with the extravagance. Remember, this was pre-financial crisis and we had gone all out…”

She also recalls how at that event, she’d asked Gen 3 (her kids, nieces, and nephews) to speak about what they’d change if they were in charge when the store turns 75. “Greg wanted to add golf, Douglas wanted to change the name to Doug’s Sports, Allison wanted to run the place. Bottom line: we’re not adding a putting green or a sports bar, we’re not changing the name; we’re just trying to survive this latest challenge, which has taught us a lot.”

In her always candid style, Gina talks about lessons learned from the pandemic. “We learned that less is more. We grew so fast from 1999 to 2007 that we lost focus on expense control. In 2008, we looked at every expense and added commissions to our compensation structure. I believe that sellers are motivated by goals, and that exceptional sellers should be rewarded financially. Since the pandemic, we’ve been able to significantly increase our turn by operating on much lower inventory. As a service-oriented store, we were often too lenient, spending too much money to ensure our customers get every conceivable option. The pandemic gave us a chance to reinvent ourselves in both merchandising and marketing. But to be honest: without the PPP, we might not have made it.”

She offers much praise to her head buyer (men’s and women’s) Robin McVicar. “She is my father’s daughter,” Gina says of Robin. “The best buyers are the best selectors: you can’t teach good taste. But to find someone who has the taste level and the financial discipline is rare indeed. Robin has both, plus the passion and dedication. She cares so much.”

Robin fills us in on menswear business pre-Father’s Day. “Although we had planned it down for spring ‘21, our men’s business is beating 2019 with less inventory. All brands are doing well: even suits and sportcoats (about 20 percent to total menswear) are almost at 2019 levels. And dress shirts! I actually brought in more in May since our assortment had been too basic.”

In fact, Robin confides that she’s almost tempted to bring in more spring clothing since many financial offices are starting to open up. “I’m expecting a spike in tailored clothing this month but since we’re typically on sale after Father’s Day, I won’t reorder now… And since most of our suit mix has been replenishment basics (Hickey Freeman and Jack Victor fill in weekly), the guy who wants a fashion suit often turns to made-to-measure, now 20 percent of the suit business.”

She predicts that menswear will continue strong. “Guys who have been out of the office for a year or so want to start fresh and need new clothes to do so. But I believe suits will ultimately evolve into a more polished casual look: a soft sportcoat worn with a polo, hoodie or jogger pant, or with cashmere pieces for fall. I’m buying a lot more pieces from brands like Vince and Theory and merchandising them in tailored clothing.”

Robin attributes much recent success to vendor support. “Peter Millar, Johnnie-O, Faherty, Polo, Rodd & Gunn, Vineyard Vines, AG, Greyson, and others come out to train staff, to work with customers, and to show us new collections so we don’t have to view them on Zoom. Our Hickey Freeman rep is here all the time and has trained the staff to sell custom. Without this great support, my job would be much harder.”

She also gives credit to the designers. “Bottom line, in both men’s and ladies, designers have done a great job. They’re trying new things; everything looks so good! That, plus the fact that we’re attracting ex-department store customers who truly appreciate our service. Plus we’re renovating, opening up space for our hottest brands in clearly defined concept shops. After more than a year of planning down, we’re so excited to be playing offense!”


  1. Congratulations and well done! I remember when I first moved to Rowayton, Ct from Evergreen Colo in 1985 and saw this great store in the heart of Darien. I have followed you all through the years the growth, additions and great staff as well as terrific brands. Just continue to do what you are doing!

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