Charlotte, Gregg and Gil Demers represent C & G Newspapers during a business expo at Detroit’s Cobo Hall in 1986.

Charlotte, Gregg and Gil Demers represent C & G Newspapers during a business expo at Detroit’s Cobo Hall in 1986.

Remembering Gil Demers

By: Brian Louwers, Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published March 8, 2019

 Gil Demers owned a market on McClellan Avenue in Detroit at the age of 18 circa 1948.

Gil Demers owned a market on McClellan Avenue in Detroit at the age of 18 circa 1948.

 C & G Newspapers launched the Royal Oak Review in September 2003. The company was founded by Gil Demers in 1981 and now has 19 newspapers in metro Detroit with a total weekly circulation of around 600,000.

C & G Newspapers launched the Royal Oak Review in September 2003. The company was founded by Gil Demers in 1981 and now has 19 newspapers in metro Detroit with a total weekly circulation of around 600,000.

 The Demers family: back row, from left, Gregg, Jeff, Suzanne (Badalamenti), Keith and Karen (Bozimowski); front row, from left, Charlotte and Gil.

The Demers family: back row, from left, Gregg, Jeff, Suzanne (Badalamenti), Keith and Karen (Bozimowski); front row, from left, Charlotte and Gil.

WARREN — Gilbert Demers owned a market at 18, ran a store on a U.S. Army base in Japan during the Korean War and worked sales jobs nationally before he became “the consummate salesman” while raising his family in St. Clair Shores.

As a young father in the 1960s, he started his own business selling food products to local restaurants. When he was 47, he began selling advertising for a local publication and later launched his own shopper paper. He eventually built a network of neighborhood newspapers that stretched from his home turf on the east side to northern Oakland County and dozens of communities in between.

With an infectious smile that nearly always came with a friendly greeting or a memorable story, and a look that could quickly turn serious as he earnestly shared advice rooted in genuine concern for your best interests, he wore a lot of hats in his life. But the one that fit him best was that of a family man.

Demers, the founder, publisher and patriarch of the C & G Newspapers family, passed away peacefully Feb. 25 at his home in Florida. His wife, Charlotte, the “C” to his “G,” and his five children were by his side. He was 89.

 

The publisher’s story
Gilbert Demers was born in Detroit on Nov. 22, 1929, and grew up during the Great Depression. His mother passed away when he was just 14.

The events affecting the world and his own life sowed the seeds of perseverance, responsibility and hard work that Demers would harvest for decades as a father and an entrepreneur.

At the age of just 18, he owned a neighborhood grocery store for about a year. There he learned the value of being his own boss and treating his customers right. Two years later, he met Charlotte.

They were engaged to be married when his country called. During the Korean War, the U.S. Army tapped into his expertise and tasked him with running a military post exchange store in Japan.

When he returned home, Demers started his sales career at Campbell’s Soup Co., and he and Charlotte were married. They started their family not far from where his father owned the Demers Market at Martin Road and Jefferson Avenue in St. Clair Shores, and they eventually had five children: Karen, Jeff, Gregg, Keith and Suzanne.

After nine years at Campbell’s, Demers went to work for a Florida-based food company. When business travel kept him away from his growing family too often for his liking, he founded Portion Products of Michigan and began selling food to local restaurants. He did that for 14 years.

Demers began his publishing career in 1977. Looking for a new way to pay the bills and support his family, he went from selling meat to selling ads for a local shopper paper, appropriately called the Advertiser. It was about six months before the paper’s owner told Demers he was moving out of state. Demers was selling advertising, and the paper’s owner offered to sell the Advertiser to him.

The cost was more than he could afford, but rather than risk his own job security with the paper’s pending sale looming, Demers instead started his own “shopper” in St. Clair Shores. He made the connections that helped him get the new paper’s first issue printed, and the bundled copies were delivered to the family’s home. He was coaching baseball at the time and recruited some kids from the area to deliver his new publication.

Bill Catalfio, the owner of Mr. C’s Car Wash, remembers meeting Demers and buying the back page ad in what would be that first edition of the St. Clair Shores Shopper for one of his stores, Mr. C’s Deli, at 10 Mile Road and Harper Avenue.

“He sold me the back page, and for 20 years, I think, we were on the back page of that thing. He made us the discount bologna kings of the east side, man,” Catalfio recalled. “We sold a gang of lunch meat from that ad in the back, and it was something, I think, the customers looked forward to, to getting that paper.

“He was the nicest man I knew. I never saw him angry. Just a super nice guy, and he would tell me, ‘As I open these papers, it gets easier and easier as you open each one.’ He was part of my motivation to open more stores,” Catalfio said.

Wes Smith worked for Webco Press in 1977, which printed the St. Clair Shores Shopper.

“I think Gil was the greatest salesperson I’ve met in my life, and I’ve met a lot,” Smith said, attributing it to Demers’ “genuine care for his clients based on a relationship.”

Demers later added a shopper in Roseville and East Detroit, now Eastpointe. He made an offer and bought the Advertiser when the 50,000-circulation paper eventually went up for sale again. Demers launched the Warren Weekly in 1980 and founded C & G Newspapers in 1981. The company now has 19 publications serving 46 communities, with an office at 11 Mile and Schoenherr roads in Warren.

Rick Burrough owns Michigan Web Press, which prints all of C & G’s publications. Burrough met Demers at Webco in the early 1980s.

“I don’t think up until then I had any exposure to any clients. It was great to have Gil as the first person I was exposed to in the real world, just to listen to how calm and cool and collected he was in getting his point across and being very honest about it and to the point,” Burrough said.

Sam Hakim, the owner of Emily’s Deli, “the home of the meat pie,” in St. Clair Shores, was another of the family’s very first customers.

“I loved the guy,” Hakim said of Gil Demers. “He had a magnetic personality, very cheerful.

“Gil was the best. He not only had the paper, he gave too. He’d have golf outings for his customers. He gave back to us. And he was a man of his word,” Hakim said.

The network of newspapers Demers began with the St. Clair Shores Shopper now has a total weekly circulation of around 600,000 homes in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties.

 

‘He was the perfect boss’
“What always stood out to me about Gil was how much he really cared about his employees,” C & G Newspapers Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran said. “Whenever he was in the office, he would go around the whole building and ask how we were doing. He was friendly and approachable, and he treated all of us like family.”

While Demers had pretty much retired within the last few years, he still came to the office for visits and to chat.

“He was like a dad. His feelings about all of us was very fatherly,” Terry Johnson said while trying to hold back tears.

Johnson was newly divorced and the mother of two young children when she was hired as an advertising sales representative in April 1987, when the office was located on Nine Mile Road, east of Van Dyke Avenue, in Warren.

Shortly after she was hired, Johnson pulled into the C & G parking lot at 8 a.m. in “an old Cavalier” that made a lot of noise.

“Follow me,” Demers said. She did, and the two of them ended up at a car repair shop in St. Clair Shores.

“He was having a guy work on my car,” Johnson said. When Johnson told Demers she couldn’t afford the repairs, he assured her that her hard work for the company would eventually cover the cost.

Advertising sales representative Robin May began working for the company in the spring of 1995.

“Gil had business relationships that lasted a long time. He knew his customers. He knew about their families. He was a great listener. Gil never met a stranger,” May said.

May will miss “his spirit, his presence, his friendship.”

Advertising sales representative David Rubello started with the company in January 1986. Rubello said Demers didn’t want to hire him because he knew Rubello’s parents and was afraid that if it didn’t work out, he’d have to fire him.

“You’re not going to have to worry about that,” Rubello promised. “Here I am, 33 years later.”

Rubello said Demers taught him not to be afraid to talk to strangers and also about “getting up, going to work and putting in a full day.” Rubello took to heart Demers’ personal touch with clients. During a stop once at a meat shop, the two salesmen not only took care of business, but they found themselves casing sausage as well for the store owner.

“His pure love for it is what made it work,” May said of the company’s success. “He believed so much in the newspapers and how they talk to the community.”

“It’s incredible what he started with, where he went and how successful he became. Gil worked hard. I think he wanted to be successful for his five kids,” Rubello said.

One of Editor Annie Bates’ best memories of Demers happened during a team-building trip at a dude ranch in Michigan.

“I ended up sitting next to Gil on the back of a wagon ride. I remember feeling awkward. Was I going to be able to talk to him? He’s the founder of the company,” Bates said. “He ended up being delightful. He talked about how he was living his dream because he was working with his kids. He had this charm about him. There was a twinkle in his eye the whole time.

“I felt special because I had this wonderful conversation with the founder,” Bates said. “I remember being impressed with him and thinking that I was lucky. It wasn’t just small talk. It was a true and good conversation. It seemed very generous and open.”

Graphic artist Brigid Sugamele has been with C & G for 30 years.

“Gil would join me for lunch sometimes, in the old building, just to chat. As we talked, he couldn’t believe I wasn’t eating the pepperonis on my pizza — he claimed they were the best part — so instead of letting them go to waste, he would eat my pepperonis as we continued to talk.

“I had lost my dad only eight months before I started working at C & G, and I remember finding so much comfort in those conversations with Gil. He was so similar to my father: both from the same era, both salesmen, and both such incredible men. How fortunate was I to start working for a company owned by a man like that during such a difficult phase of my life.”

Advertising sales representative Adam Wagenknecht recalled that Demers would often say to employees, “Thank you for your hard work” and “I’m proud of you.”

Demers will be missed by so many, and his dream will carry on.

“He would want us to work. He wouldn’t want us to mope,” Rubello said. “He was always, ‘Hey, the show must go on.’”