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Maine Red Hot Dog Festival brings crowds, business to Dexter

The event aims to revitalize the town, which has struggled economically since the Dexter Shoe Factory shut down in 2001.

DEXTER, Maine — The Maine Red Hot Dog Festival returned for its sixth year Saturday. The celebration of red snappers, the natural casing franks long associated with Maine, drew large crowds to Dexter’s downtown where live bands played, and a large tent served red hot dogs with factory-like efficiency and industrial scale.

One vendor estimated 5,000 franks would be served by the end of the event. While it was hard not to be transfixed by the mountains of pink-hued tubed meat, much of the true purpose of the festival focused beyond the concession stands.

The event was sponsored, in part, by the Dexter Revitalization Committee. The group is tasked with stimulating a local economy, which locals said, has never fully recovered since the shuttering of the Dexter Shoe Factory in 2001.   

As part of that effort, dozens of businesses were invited to set up pop-up stores under individual tents along Main Street. Terry Hiltz, who sells homemade soaps online, said it was the perfect venue to grow her customer base. 

“It gives us a chance to take our products to the people which you don’t get to do in a normal brick-and-mortar building,” Hiltz said.

Business was not hard to find Saturday, as hot and sunny weather invited many to spend the day outdoors. 

“We’ve already sold enough [merchandise] five minutes after we opened to cover the cost of rentals," David Palmer, who sold T-shirts, said. 

Beyond the effort to grow the local economy, those involved in the Maine Red Hot Dog Festival, you could say, are waging a larger philosophical battle for unity in Dexter.

“[The festival] really just infuses us with a positivity that we really need in this town,” Melissa Spizuoco, a school social worker volunteering on Saturday, said. 

To her, and others, the feeling of community in Dexter was fundamentally altered when the shoe factory closed more than two decades ago, and it hasn’t recovered.

“Dexter Shoe was really big in this town. That kind of held everybody together cause you'd see people at functions that have to do with Dexter Shoe.  And then when that factory left, we lost a lot of that cohesion,” Spizuoco said.

But some locals said things could be changing for the better in Dexter, beyond just the Maine Red Hot Dog Festival. Allen Drew has worked with the Dexter Police Department for 12 years, serving as both a patrol officer and a school resource officer. 

“When I go through town, I can see the changing and the [positive growth] of what is happening here in Dexter," he said.

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