Civic cheerleader Emily Gail returns to city and still has nice things to say about Detroit

Posted at 6:28 PM, Jun 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-09 09:35:03-04

She was the Detroit booster in braids when few others were saying nice things about Detroit.

Emily Gail was a dynamo running a downtown retail store starting in the late 1970s. She and partner Herb (Pooh) Squires also organized fun runs that grew to 20,000 participants by the mid-1980s.

Her slogan, "Say Nice Things About Detroit," became a grass roots public relations campaign of sorts for the city.

Her triumphs against the obstacles of the time came through hard work and her dogged spirit.

"Most of the time it was dark, particularly in the beginning," Gail told 7 Action News as she walked along Woodward Avenue on a bright, sunny afternoon. "I was kind of the brunt of jokes," Gail said of her always positive attitude about the city and its prospects. 

She recalls being described as Pollyanna with pigtails during panel discussions about Detroit. 

Gail left Detroit in 1986 for Hawaii, where she has lived since. She has promoted triathlons, sold real estate and also hosted her own radio show forESPN Hawaii

While the pigtails are long gone now, she still returns regularly to her hometown.

"This is where my heart is and I've known that for 30 years," Gail said. 

She finds that she is still often recognized during return visits. Detroit Developer David Di Rita, a principal with the Roxbury Group, came upon Emily as she was being interviewed.

"My first employer, Emily Gail," Di Rita offered. "I scooped ice cream for her," he said. 

Di Rita was one of the many young people who worked at Emily's Across the Street, Gail's popular store that was located at Congress and Shelby in Detroit.

Di Rita said Gail was the woman who saved Detroit.

The passage of time allows for reflection on how far downtown has come in the 30 years since she left the city she loves. 

"Sure there's lots of things that are being worked on (and) need to be worked on," said Gail. "But how can you not walk around and feel pride." 

Three decades later, Emily Gail is still saying nice things about Detroit. 

Emily Gail will be a featured speaker Thursday, June 9 from 6-8 p.m. at Urban Consolate, 4470 Second Avenue in Detroit.