BY Sharon Kiley Mack of the news staff - DEXTER - The town of Dexter is a very different town today from five years ago. It's not just the cactus, hay bales and horses that were all over downtown for Wild West Weekend.
Town Manager Robert Simpson said it is the can-do attitude of the people and the sense of community that have come to the forefront since the closure of Dexter Shoe Co.
Working quietly on Saturday at Wild West headquarters, Simpson reflected on the spirit of the town that lost its major employer.
Looking outside on Main Street, Simpson said the people have come together in a way never before believed possible. The hundreds of participants in the three-day Wild West celebration were clear evidence, he said.
"This was created on a whim last year," he said. "It was a shot in the dark with no budget and a lot of volunteers. The response has been amazing. Last night [Friday], Main Street was filled with people for a concert. People are having a great time."
Simpson said the Wild West festival "was another opportunity to develop our community both economically and socially. Since Dexter Shoe closed, the town of Dexter has formed a whole new personality."
"We are no longer a mill town," said Simpson.
"Six and a half years ago, when I first came to town, there were for-sale signs on every house," recalled the town manager. "Now Realtors are complaining there aren't enough listings."
Dexter residents have focused on creating a sense of community, upgrading the school system, and giving the town a face-lift with clean yards and new parks, including a freshly built covered bridge and gazebo just off Main Street.
On Saturday afternoon, despite hot, humid conditions, vacationers from all over New England mingled with local residents at the many events. Hay bales along the sidewalks provided a place to rest as horses and buggies clip-clopped along Main Street.
A loudspeaker blared cowboy music, singing "Ki-yi-yipee-i-ay" to those dressed as American Indians and cowboys.
Vendors got into the spirit of the event, selling everything from toy sheriff's badges to cowboy-boot candles and American Indian quill jewelry.
On Friday, local police "arrested" some local women parading as "ladies of the night" on Main Street, while children showed off during a chicken chase, a pig scramble and an egg toss.
There was a watermelon spitting contest, the women's skillet toss, a horse show, barbecues and public supper. There was even a "shootout" at the Dexter Municipal Golf Course.
"Everyone is just having such a good time with this," said Simpson.
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