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Ex-Dr Pepper town seeks new image to boost tourism

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 5, 2014 at 10:19 am •  Published: July 5, 2014
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DUBLIN, Texas (AP) — Early leaders named the streets Patrick, Shannon and Erin to give a diverse Texas frontier town a sense of Irish identity.

Nonetheless, most of Dublin's nearly 3,900 residents believe the connection to Ireland's capital city is mythical, and that the town is named after the early settler expression "doublin' up" — circling covered wagons at night to defend against Plains attackers.

But over the last century Dublin developed a distinctly different identity tied to its biggest tourist draw: Dr Pepper. With its famous sugar cane soft drink and the world's oldest Dr Pepper bottling plant, Dublin thrived on a merchandising bonanza that drew 90,000 people annually to the Central Texas town.

All of that is gone now.

More than two years after Dr Pepper cut ties with the local bottler over a licensing dispute, the town is trying to stabilize its economy by promoting its lesser-known claims to fame, from a festival highlighting its debatable Irish roots, to Dublin's bygone rodeo glories, to its location within the county Dairy Capital of Texas. The efforts exemplify how other communities across the country — stripped of the iconic industry that put them on the map — cast about for ways to redefine themselves and replace lost incomes.

"I guess we all felt like, 'Let's get on down the road,'" said Karen Wright, executive director of the Dublin Economic Development Corporation. "Our new reality is not Dublin Dr Pepper. It's something different. We've got to define it. It's up to us."

Towns facing sluggish economies have gone about rebuilding notoriety in inventive ways.

Evans City, Pennsylvania, is planning its first-ever "Night of the Living Dead" festival, a month-long event next October to celebrate being the setting where the 1968 horror movie was filmed. In Newton, Iowa, an annual sculpture festival recently celebrated its 12th year as the community tries to recover from appliance maker Maytag's departure from its longtime hometown.

But Dublin without Dr Pepper is turning out to be a hard sell. At the annual summer festival in June — the first since 1980 in which Dr Pepper's birthday was not celebrated — the town saw how far its largest tourism event had fallen.

Five line dancers in tap shoes performed to a near-empty set of bleachers. The bicycle race was canceled after the organizers failed to show. An arts and crafts fair included only two stands. Food options were also slim: the Surfing Cowboy's Cajun shrimp on a stick or a Mexican taco truck.

"It just don't have the push that Dr Pepper had," 66-year-old resident Lion's Club president David Cleveland said as he surveyed the fair.

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