Caring for others— while taking no guff

If “God is in the detail” — as any number of people have said — perhaps that’s partly because details reveal the whole. In the case of Kristen N. Gizzi, she loves nothing more than dinners al fresco at her Westchester home with her daughters and their friends. She’s also the pet mom of Gracie, a sickly Lakeland Terrier she adopted who needs special care. But then, Gizzi is a caring person. And she applies that caring nature to her philanthropic pursuits as well as her work as general counsel of the family-owned ECCO Group of companies in Yonkers, specializing in industrial construction, management and development; and executive director of her family’s Litchfield Crossings, New Milford’s largest shopping center.

“Litchfield Crossings…that has been my baby,” she says. “I’m involved with everything from leasing to marketing and social media.”

That hands-on approach is critical in this time of the coronavirus. Early on, Gizzi contacted her tenants — Aber Nail & Spa II, AT&T, Big Lots!, Home Goods, Kohl’s, Panera Bread, Petco, T.J. Maxx, Union Bank and Webster Bank — to let them know what the protocols would be for reopening, in accordance with CDC and WHO guidelines. She also put the word out on social media. Since Litchfield Crossings is an outdoor mall, social distancing was not an issue per se, Gizzi says. But it was important to her to pay attention to sanitization in the common areas and to safety for events like the classic car show held at dusk on Tuesday nights through September. 

 “It’s amazing,” Gizzi says. “Leasing in general has been affected. Everyone is hesitant to commit.” At present, plans for a 15,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art daycare center are on hold. “I also want to make sure that when you’re doing something sensitive like that, that it’s right.”

Still, there were a number of other deals she had been working on for a while. Litchfield Crossings is building a 5,500-square-foot building for Chipotle Mexican Grill and Jersey Mike’s Subs, with one more space there to be leased.

Though Gizzi says “I was always interested in the law,” corporate law was not what she set her sights on. Growing up in Yonkers, she says, “my dream was to be a prosecutor. I always had this sense of right and wrong. I saw injustice, and I wanted to do something about it.” 

After attending the University of New Hampshire, she received her J.D. from Brooklyn Law School and became an assistant district attorney in the office of Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown — “the best D.A. there was,” she adds. But after three years, she says, “I saw I wasn’t changing the world. I wasn’t passionate about politics.” She left, joined a White Plains law firm, did litigation and hated it. She started her own practice around the time her father, John F. Gizzi, had a heart attack. Joining the family business — for which she answered phones and did filing as a teenager — was as natural as it was perhaps inevitable.

“I love it all, even the retail construction,” she says. “I’m learning…and it’s creative.”

Gizzi thinks of her grandfather, a carpenter whom she watched build his own home. With building in her blood and an expanding body of knowledge, she revels in being a woman in what has been a man’s world.

“You walk into a meeting and they look at you as if this girl won’t know what she’s talking about. But then you call them on something and they’re surprised. You have to hold your own. You can’t take s- – -.

“It took many years. A lot of male workers were not thrilled I was there.” But over time, she has earned — no, demanded — respect and broken through what is a concrete ceiling.

Gizzi’s tough-tender style and legal background serve her in good stead as president of the board of directors of Hope’s Door, a Hawthorne-based nonprofit dedicated to eradicating domestic violence. And not just against women, Gizzi adds, but against men and members of the LGBTQ community, particularly transgender individuals. The virus has exacerbated domestic violence, first by isolating everyone at home, including victims, so it is underreported and there have been fewer resources; and second by hampering fundraising.  (On July 23, Hope’s Door and the Music Conservatory of Westchester joined forces for a virtual Hope’s Door fundraiser that featured Broadway star, and WAG’s April cover subject, Melissa Errico. Another virtual fundraiser is planned for Oct. 1. )

“It’s a very different time with the loss of revenue,” Gizzi observes. “The need is great.”

A witness to domestic violence herself, she is particularly excited about the organization’s programs for young people that offer awareness of teen dating violence as well as coping strategies to help end the cycle of violence that often begins at a young age. (The Hope’s Door Teen Symposium is set virtually for Oct. 26.)

Along the way, she hasn’t forgotten to care for herself. She does Pilates — “my outlet for anxiety,” she says. And then there are those family dinners and making S’mores.

“Those are the things that matter. I learned that from this pandemic. It’s put us in touch with what’s important — like it or not.”

For more, visit litchfieldcrossings.com and hopesdoorny.org.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *