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The family retail business suits Gina Ancona just fine

RIDGEFIELD, CT -- Gina Ancona was born July 26, 1976, in Ridgefield, CT, where she still lives. She went to Ridgefield High School. Her parents live in Ridgefield. She works in Ridgefield.

She really is a local girl.

She is also a key part of Ancona's Market, a family-owned supermarket that has been serving the people of Ridgefield, in southwestern Connecticut, since the 1920s.

After graduating from Ridgefield High School in 1994, Ms. Ancona enrolled at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, studying animal science, a field she still enjoys. "I thought that's where I wanted to be, but I realized it wasn't what I wanted to do professionally," she told The Produce News recently.

She left college during her sophomore year and joined the family's supermarket, working in the bakery department for about six months. She left to work in sales at two different companies in the area before deciding to return to the family business.

She rejoined in September 1998, working full time in a mid- level managerial position. She currently spends most of her time "up front," as she calls it, assisting in the accounts payable department, supervising the cashiers and working with the human resources department. "A little bit of everything," she said.

Asked what she liked best about her job, she replied, "The thing I love the most -- I love the customers, interacting with them. The customers who come in here come here every week. You form friendships with them."

She remembers working in the produce department while she was in high school, and still considers produce the most dynamic part of the 25,000-square-foot store.

"Customers always tell me how fresh our produce is. They know it's always going to be fresh. That's what I hear when I'm out and about around town," she said. "Produce is a vital part of the store. It's the first aisle you walk down when you enter the store."

Bozzuto's Inc. in Cheshire, CT, is the store's primary supplier, and assists the retailer in many ways, including merchandising. For example, the store's organic produce section was enlarged a few years ago to take advantage of that expanding category, Ms. Ancona said.

Asked what her biggest challenge is, Ms. Ancona alluded to the high standards she and her family have always had in the store by saying, "My biggest challenge is finding enough people to run [the store] at the level we like to have it."

Ancona's Market is owned jointly by brothers John Ancona (Gina's father) and Joe Ancona Jr. But the company has a long history, as the brothers' father started the firm as a soda fountain with gasoline pumps, John Ancona related in a previous interview with The Produce News. This evolved into a more traditional supermarket of the times, and in 1960 moved into a building across the street from its current location. It operated from that location from 1960 to 1980, moving to its current spot in July 1980, where it has served for 25 years.

Joe Jr.'s son, Bob, has been here close to 20 years, and another son, Joe (J.R.), rejoined the company just recently. The co-owners' sister, Phyllis, has been here more than 25 years and currently works in the accounts payables department.

While Ms. Ancona spends a good deal of time at her job, the 29-year-old does find time for her favorite hobby, horseback riding, which she has enjoyed since she was nine years old. She had her own horse, Crockett, from the time she was 12 until she left for college, and used to compete at local horse shows. She still rides twice a week.

She enjoys other outdoor activities, such as hiking with her dog, Smithers, and swimming. And she loves the city (Manhattan, that is), going to restaurants and clubs with friends.

She seems to have found her niche at the family business, however, and puts in a lot of time and effort in keeping the supermarket at the top of its game. She finds her young age mostly advantageous, as "people like to help you out," she said.

Asked what she's learned the most, she replied, "Patience is a much-needed virtue. It helps with every aspect of business -- and life."