DARIEN, Conn. -- Stephen Zangrillo knew his customers at Darien Sport Shop, and he never forgot them.
Zangrillo, who died at the age of 91 on July 8, would recognize faces and remember names from long ago, according to Arthur Pliner, Chief Financial Officer for the Post Road store . “He had a marvelous way about him,’’ said Pliner, who has worked at the store for eight years. “He never forgot a name and he made everyone feel important. He would still come in and hand out lollipops right up until the end.”
Zangrillo, a lifelong Darien resident, opened the store in 1946. Prior to opening the store, he served in World War II as an Army corporal in the South Pacific. Zangrillo had little money when he started the store, which has become the linchpin to the Darien business district.
“He was just a pillar in the community,’’ Pliner said. “He opened a small store which eventually became the backbone to the shopping area. He had atremendous allegiance to the community and he gave back to it.”
Zangrillo’s contributions to the Darien community ranged far and wide. He purchased the first ambulance for Post 53 and gave children their first baseball gloves if they were unable to afford them.
“There was not a local charity to which he wouldn’t make a contribution,’’ Pliner said. “He was known for his philanthropy. If somebody came in and couldn’t afford a suit, they walked out with a suit. All he asked was that they’d come back and shop when they had the money. He developed that kind of loyalty. He never said no.”
Zangrillo was a charter member of the Country Club of Darien, and won the first club championship in 1957. He served as the President of the DarienChamber of Commerce in 1960. He also hosted the town’s annual Christmas tree lighting.
Zangrillo stayed involved in the business on a limited basis even after turning the day-to-day reins over to his daughter, Gina, who has been President of the Sport Shop and running the store for the past 10 years.
“He was a tough businessman, he was, but he was fair,’’ Pliner said. “He was driven. His word was his bond. As tough as he was, if he gave you his word, you could take it to the bank.”
Pliner said Zangrillo’s passing will be felt throughout Darien.
“He helped make the town what it is today,’’ he said. "He was Mr. Darien.”