DUBLIN, Texas — Dublin didn't invent Dr Pepper, but no other place has embraced the soft drink quite like it has.
A dozen or so signs and murals around town tout the virtues of the local version of the drink, Dublin Dr Pepper, which was first bottled in Dublin in 1891, six years after it debuted in Waco. And a giant Dublin Dr Pepper billboard greets the nearly 100,000 annual visitors to the central Texas town — most who come just to buy the drink, which is made with cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup and is sweeter than typical Dr Pepper.
But because of a legal settlement that led to the demise of the Dublin Dr Pepper brand and logo, the town's name is being cut out, covered up or painted over on the signs, and many residents feel the town's identity is disappearing along with it.
"You see somebody cutting your name out of something like it never happened, and that's just gut-wrenching," said Pat Leatherwood, vice president of First National Bank of Dublin. "You walk in stores all over town, and some people are mad. Some are upset. It's like someone has died."
Dr Pepper Snapple Group, which is based in Plano, announced this week that it bought all of the Dublin bottling company's sales and distribution operations and related assets, as well as the rights to distribute Dr Pepper and its other brands in the six central Texas counties served by Dr Pepper Bottling Co. of Dublin, which has been renamed Dublin Bottling Works.
The company said it will still make the sweeter version of the fruit- and berry-flavored carbonated drink at another plant and distribute it in several Texas cities, including the Dublin bottling plant's soda shop and museum. The bottles will have the same "distinct, nostalgic packaging" but won't have the Dublin name or a new name, said Chris Barnes, a Dr Pepper Snapple Group spokesman.
Some people trying to make a quick buck on the now-obsolete Dublin Dr Pepper brand were selling the soda on eBay on Friday, with the highest price at $9,999 for 24 8-ounce bottles of the sweet drink.
Folks in Dublin are worried about the loss of the town's namesake soda, which drew 95,000 tourists each year to the soda shop, museum and the plant's birthday celebration, where the town was renamed "Dr Pepper, Texas" for a week. And many of the 3,800 residents are vowing never to drink any Dr Pepper ever again.
"I'm very concerned about my business in this economy, and now with this. What's going to draw them to Dublin?" said Three Sisters gift shop owner Lisa Leatherwood, who gave away all her store's Dr Pepper drinks on an outside table Thursday under a sign that read: "We no longer drink Dr Pepper products! Help yourself!"
Jeff Kloster, vice president of Dublin Bottling Works, said his plant will keep producing other soft drinks, including Triple X root beer, Sun Crest, Nu Grape and Big Red. But in the wake of the settlement Wednesday, he had to lay off 14 employees and was forced to remove all T-shirts and other products that said "Dublin Dr Pepper." He said he is sad and disappointed in how things turned out but declined to comment about the suit or settlement.
"The good news is that we're still here," he said, fighting back tears as employees were selling the last cases to people lined out the door.
A day after hearing the news, John Brumett drove all the way from Dallas, about 150 miles northeast of Dublin, even though he wasn't sure any Dublin Dr Pepper would be left. He was in luck but was able to get a case of 6.5-ounce bottles after he returned his empty 10-ounce bottles — a practice that locals and others across the state have been doing for years. The thick glass bottles have been used and reused since the 1950s or earlier.
"I am so disgusted that this Dublin Dr Pepper is not available anymore," Brumett said Thursday. "There is no reason for a giant industry to overrun a small industry. I'm very disappointed."
But Barnes said the company sued because the Dublin bottler would not stop selling outside its territory. He also said there was a trademark issue and that Dublin was not the only bottler selling the drink with cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup, although many people have that impression because its name is on the bottle.
"This has been a difficult situation and one that we hoped to avoid," Barnes told The Associated Press on Friday.