Denis James Tomassetti, a Sacramento business owner who defied the digital age and delighted music collectors with a well-stocked selection of vinyl records, CDs and tapes at his Esoteric Records store, died in a traffic collision Wednesday. He was 60.
He was killed when a tow truck crashed into the pickup he was driving at Carlson Drive and H Street in Sacramento. The collision is under investigation, police said.
Like many baby boomers, Mr. Tomassetti grew up with a special fondness for British groups and performers – especially the Kinks, the Who, Elvis Costello, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. He spent years shopping for vinyl at yard sales, collecting records and a vast knowledge of artists and genres.
"Everyone who had a music trivia question went to Denis," said his wife, Mary Rhea. "If you thought of a song but couldn't get the artist, you went to Denis."
Mr. Tomassetti was a regular customer for many years at Esoteric Records, one of the first used-records stores in Sacramento. The business opened in 1974 as John P. Hogue Books and Records on Alhambra Boulevard, according to a 2010 story by Valley Community Newspapers.
He went to work at Esoteric and became a co-owner in 1982, when the store relocated to Broadway. He took over three years later as sole owner and branched out with a second shop in the Arden Arcade area. The Broadway store moved and closed in 2004, leaving him with a location in a strip mall on El Camino Avenue near Watt Avenue.
Mr. Tomassetti welcomed music lovers searching for obscure treasures and classic recordings at reasonable prices. Besides vinyl and CDs, he stocked his small store with DVDs, VHS tapes, cassettes and eight-track tapes. Helpful and easygoing, he gave customers nicknames based on their musical tastes and enjoyed talking about artists, searching recording catalogs and filling special orders.
"He was great with people," said James "Tony" Larejeno, who took over the business a couple of years ago. "He loved being around music and people. It never leaves your blood."
Born in 1952 in Sacramento, Mr. Tomassetti graduated from Sacramento High School and served in the Army. He attended Sacramento City College and worked at a sporting goods store.
He ran his record business while working for 15 years in the finance and circulation departments at The Bee. He married his wife, who currently works at The Bee, in 1991 and had a daughter.
Mr. Tomassetti continued going in to work occasionally for the last two years at Esoteric Records, which moved last October to Fulton Avenue. He told Valley Community Newspapers that he enjoyed working in music and being part of a tradition selling vinyl records in a store in the iTunes age.
"I don't know if I'd want to do anything else," he said. "It's like the last man standing. I enjoy it, and I'll keep doing it as long as I can."
Denis J. Tomassetti
Born: Oct. 26, 1952
Died: April 3, 2013
Survived by: Wife, Mary Rhea of Sacramento; daughter, Maura of Sacramento; mother, Carmen of Sacramento; brothers, John of Pasadena, and Mark of Orangevale
Call The Bee's Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @bob_davila.