Jon Bruscia, a businessman with a sharp eye for collectibles who ran a popular antiques store in Old Sacramento for 40 years, died Feb. 2 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, his family said. He was 66.
Mr. Bruscia was one of the first merchants to set up shop in Old Sacramento as redevelopment began transforming the historic neighborhood from a skid row to a retail and tourism destination. He opened Closet Antiques amid rows of run-down buildings behind chain-link fences in 1973. The business moved to nearby locations before settling on Front Street near K Street for the last several years.
Inspired by a personal interest in political memorabilia and coins, he began scouring yard sales, auctions and flea markets for historic, sentimental and rare items to resell to other collectors. He worked at antiques shows and traveled to street fairs in Auburn, Folsom, Placerville and other towns.
“He put an ad in the Yellow Pages, and that’s when things really blossomed,” former business partner Donnie Spinella said. “People called from all around with stuff they had. He was real well-known in the community.”
Mr. Bruscia combed through dusty boxes and trunks and sifted through stacks of old photos, magazines and records in basements and attics in search of gems. He described the thrill of finding hidden treasures as “a rush – like 50 cups of coffee” in a 1992 story in The Sacramento Bee.
“It’s just like going through history, through somebody’s life,” he said. “Each box could be a surprise. You open one, and here are all these rare political buttons that haven’t seen the light of day since 1930. Hey, that’s a living.”
A Sacramento native, Jon Drew Bruscia was born July 9, 1947. After graduating from Sacramento High School in 1965, he was drafted into the Army for two years and served in a combat artillery unit in Vietnam.
“He refused to talk Vietnam,” said his cousin Kathie Bruscia. “In all the years after he got back, he never talked about it.”
Discharged in 1969, Mr. Bruscia returned home and attended Sacramento City College and California State University, Sacramento. He began selling antiques and educated himself on spotting valuable artifacts amid everyday items – including an old beer can that he sold for $2,000.
“But that’s the gravy,” he said. “The real stuff is when you buy something for $5 or $10 and it’s worth a lot more. That last time that happened, I was walking around a flea market and found an early Mickey Mouse book from 1932 – the condition was excellent – and the guy wanted $2 for it. I sold it for $100.”
A fun, witty man who laughed a lot and liked to have a good time, Mr. Bruscia spent much of his life out and about his hometown. In his younger days, he entertained friends with Elvis impersonations and showed off his dance moves at local discos. He played basketball five days a week for many years with longtime buddies at the Capital Athletic Club downtown.
A self-taught musician, he played guitar and was the lead singer in an oldies band, The Vital Signs, that performed gigs at clubs, parties and class reunions.
“He was always telling stories and making people laugh,” his cousin said. “He was very charming and loved to be the center of attention.”
Mr. Bruscia is survived by a daughter, Rhianna.
A celebration of his life is planned in spring. For information, contact Jan Darvas, email@example.com.
Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.