Downtown’s champion dies|Tomasulo remembered for his passion, concern for Washington merchants

Published 4:12 pm Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Community Editor

Gary Tomasulo, president of the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association, died after falling from a fire escape on a downtown building early Monday morning.
Tomasulo was working in and around an apartment located above Main Street Scoops, a building that he purchased earlier this year, when he fell some three stories, according to Mick Reed, Washington’s police chief.
“We think he was doing work inside and slipped from the top landing,” Reed said.
A fellow downtown business owner found Tomasulo and placed a call to emergency services at 9:46 a.m. Tomasulo was pronounced dead at the scene after the arrival of firefighters/EMTs with the Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS-Inspections Department and officers with the Washington Police Department, Reed said.
“We don’t know how long he was there,” Reed added.
A police officer investigating the incident fell and hurt her wrist on the wet fire escape.
Reed described Tomasulo, 62, as a hard worker and strong advocate for downtown Washington.
“He was everything about downtown,” Reed said.
Tomasulo, who spent more than 20 years as a corrections officer and captain at Rikers Island in New York City, moved to Washington with his wife, Marie, in 2001. It didn’t take the Brooklyn native long to break into his new town.
Tomasulo was chosen as president of the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association by 2002, although he didn’t open his own “mom-and-pop” business downtown — La Bella Pizzeria — until early July of this year.
Tomasulo was instrumental in further developing and running downtown festivals like Smoke on the Water and Music in the Streets.
Catherine Glover, executive director of the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce, said Tomasulo’s loss leaves a void within the merchants group, as well as throughout downtown Washington.
“His passion for downtown was basically unmatched,” she said. “I’m not sure who’s going to take his place.”
Washington tourism-development director Lynn Lewis said Tomasulo was one of a kind — fiery, passionate, determined, stubborn, loyal.
She fondly remembered Tomasulo, who worked with her as a member of the Washington Tourism Development Authority, painting the outside of the Washington Visitor Center.
“He was someone you could count on,” she said.
Glenn Wetherington, who owns the Down on Mainstreet restaurant with his wife, Gennia, said downtown merchants lost someone who cared deeply about them with the loss of Tomasulo.
“We’ve known Gary for the five years we’ve been in business down there,” Wetherington said Monday afternoon. “He was a permanent fixture downtown. He was one of the best friends you could have as a business neighbor.”
Wetherington recalled a visit by Tomasulo earlier this year as Tomasulo was building La Bella Pizzeria.
“He would come in on a Saturday, covered with Sheetrock dust from working to open the pizzeria, and ask how your night was after a Music in the Streets,” Wetherington said.
As for downtown merchants and property owners possibly doing something to honor Tomasulo, Wetherington is not sure what may happen.
“Everyone is still in shock, trying to figure out what to do,” he said.
Wetherington said the loss of Tomasulo leaves a large void downtown.
“He meant a lot to downtown. In my opinion, Gary was downtown,” he said.