Services will be held Monday at 11 a.m. at St. John’s Church in Darien, Conn., for Stephen Zangrillo, 91, founder of Darien Sport Shop.
This story first appeared in the July 15, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Zangrillo died at his home in Darien on July 8 surrounded by his family, according to his daughter Gina Zangrillo, the store’s president.
Known to customers and the industry as “Mr. Z,” Zangrillo opened a one-room sporting goods store in Darien in 1946, just a few blocks away from the center of town. In 1954, he purchased the land at 1127 Boston Post Road and relocated the store into a its current location where it spans three levels and 45,000 square feet.
Even after his daughter took over the day-to-day operation of the store, Zangrillo was a fixture at the front door, greeting everyone who entered. “It was Mr. Z’s warm presence and friendly greetings that generations of loyal customers grew to love and know,” Gina Zangrillo said in an e-mail to vendors. “His dedication to providing personal customer service has been the business model for Darien Sport Shop since day one.
“His generosity to the community was bountiful and always endowed without question,” she continued. “Mr. Z supported countless fundraisers and charitable events through the years. When the 100-foot Christmas tree was destroyed in a storm a few years ago, Mr. Z and I agreed that the tree must be replaced and the traditional town Christmas tree lighting would not skip a beat. As the new tree grows to reach new heights and generations come and go, it is our commitment to Mr. Z that his legacy will be maintained and nurtured at the Darien Sport Shop with the same drive and aspiration that he set forth some 70 years ago.”
Jack Wu, president of Rainforest, recalled the first time he walked in the store in Darien. “I didn’t know a soul, yet Mr. Z greeting me with such warmth and kindness that I felt like we were old friends. Mr. Z greeted every visitor at the entrance like you were a big shopper and a next-door friend. Darien Sport is the most friendly, upscale family store. He will be greatly missed.”
Tom Whitney, general merchandise manager of Darien Sport Shop, said Zangrillo had still been coming into the store — albeit in a wheelchair — until a week ago. Before fracturing his spine in an accident about one year ago, Whitney said he had driven to the store every morning and the staff left out the sales receipts for him to peruse.
“It was amazing the wealth of information he had about his customers until the very end,” said Whitney. “And it was all in his head. It was a completely different way of doing business and I’ll never have that kind of knowledge.”
Zangrillo is survived by his wife Yolanda, a brother Robert, four children, Stephen, Anthony, Stephanie and Gina, and six grandchildren.