DEXTER – Residents of Dexter appeared to be going about their business as usual Tuesday, but conversations quickly turned to the impact the closing of the local shoe manufacturing plant will have on their community.
A sign standing by a vegetable stand on Route 7 stating “Pray for us” could just as easily have been meant for the unemployed Dexter people as for all Americans affected by the terrorist attacks a week ago.
“That company is the only thing that kept this town going,” said Donald Morrill, 52. “I can see a lot of people will be leaving this area.”
Morrill said that he had been raised in Dexter, and “when I was a boy, this town had five or six mills and industries. There is nothing left. This is really, really going to hurt.”
As he bought a hot dog and a coffee for lunch Tuesday at Toot’s Deli on Main Street, Morrill said his thoughts kept turning to a dear friend who has worked for Dexter Shoe for 30 years. “Thirty years. Thirty years,” he said, shaking his head. “What is he going to do now?”
Farther north on Main Street, Earlene Briggs was at Shop ‘n Save buying groceries. “We all knew it was coming,” she said from her car in the parking lot. “They’ve closed Milo, Skowhegan and Newport. It was just a matter of time before we closed here.”
Briggs said she worked for Dexter Shoe for eight years and was one of the first 20 workers laid off in 1998. “We’re going to end up just like Corinna,” she said. “Everyone will put a ‘for sale’ sign in front of their houses.”
Monica Merrill of Dexter, who works for Shop ‘n Save, was rounding up grocery carts in the parking lot. Her boyfriend, who has worked at Dexter for 7 years, had called her earlier that morning to tell her he was being laid off.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” said Merrill, “but it is not just us who have family working there. This is going to affect all of us. The majority of [Shop 'n Save] customers work there. Some of our part-timers work there.” Merrill said some of her co-workers were very upset when their husbands called and said they had lost their jobs.
“No one quite knows what is going to happen,” she said.
Another customer, Elsie Sherwood, added, “They’ve always been here. It’s going to change around here. That’s for sure.”
Mary Bugenske summed her feelings up in one simple statement: “Dexter Shoe closing is the end of the town of Dexter.”
Sue Burton took a double hit Tuesday. Her husband has worked for Dexter Shoe for 17 years and is in upper management. Burton said her husband was aware of the impending closing several days ago, but “he doesn’t know if this affects his job yet,” she said Tuesday afternoon.
Burton also provides day care for two Dexter Shoe employees’ children. “It could have been worse,” she added. “I consider myself lucky because a few years ago, all my children were Dexter kids.” She said as rounds of layoffs occurred over the past five years, many former Dexter employees found work outside of town.
That trend was echoed by Peggy Mossey, who also provides day care on Zions Hill. Mossey said that she used to have several children of Dexter workers but now the parents of her clients work in Bangor, St. Albans and elsewhere.
Robert Wintle of Dexter was slightly optimistic about the town’s future. “A lot of people will be suffering for the short term,” the 70-year-old said, “but eventually jobs will replace the ones that are lost. Maybe not a single company will come in here, it could take one or a half dozen, but the bottom line is people have to work.”
It was reported incorrectly in an article printed Wednesday that Dexter resident Sue Burton indicated that her husband, a management official at Dexter Shoe Co., was aware of the company's closing before Tuesday morning.