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FORT WORTH, Texas (Reuters) - A tiny Texas town is mourning the loss of its biggest tourist draw - not a cathedral or a battlefield but rather a special kind of Dr Pepper sweetened with cane sugar and sold in a bottle bearing the town's name.
The residents of Dublin, Texas aren't alone. Across the country, thousands of outraged fans of the drink are signing online petitions protesting the loss.
Some Texas chefs are banning Dr Pepper products, and on Friday, a case of Dublin Dr Pepper was offered on eBay for $9,999.
After more than 100 years, Dr Pepper Bottling Co. in Dublin, Texas stopped making its signature beverage this week as part of an agreement reached after Dr Pepper Snapple Group sued the 40-person bottling company over trademark and territory issues.
Nancy Wooldridge, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said the town of 4,000 suffered a "heart attack" as production stopped and workers removed signs reading "Dublin Dr Pepper" from the bottling plant.
The secret to Dublin Dr Pepper's success was that the bottler made it using Imperial pure cane sugar. Dr Pepper made with the sugar - as opposed to corn syrup - will still be available, but Dublin-labeled bottles are no more, and Dr Pepper will not be bottled at that plant.
That has left many in this small town two hours west of Dallas -- which designates itself "Dr Pepper, Texas" for an annual festival each year -- bitter and disappointed.
The Dublin plant's co-owner, Bill Kloster Jr., could not be reached for comment Friday.
But thousands of Dublin Dr Pepper supporters have signed online petitions or indicated support for a boycott of Dr Pepper Snapple Group. A petition at change.org had 14,517 signers by Friday afternoon, and 18,253 supporters "liked" the "I Support Dublin Dr Pepper" Facebook page.
Dubliners and other Texans have rallied around the beverages still to be produced there, including Triple XXX Root Beer.
Chef Jon Bonnell, owner of Bonnell's Fine Texas Cuisine in Fort Worth, is eliminating a signature dessert at his restaurant - the Dublin Dr Pepper Float - and replacing it with a Triple XXX Root Beer float.
"I'm always proud to support the little guys over there," Bonnell told Reuters. "When I saw what Dr Pepper as a company did to the little guy, I said, 'You know, life's too short.' "
The Dublin plant produced less than 1 percent of Dr Pepper Snapple Group's $5.6 billion in sales in 2010, the last reported year, said Chris Barnes, spokesman for the group. He said the cane sugar Dr Pepper made elsewhere will be sold in Dublin and in other Texas markets.
"We've heard from consumers and we've had those discussions," Barnes said. "We want to convey to them the fact that they can get the same great-tasting Dr Pepper in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Waco areas, among other areas. There's going to be no changes to what's in the product."
In Dublin, Old Doc's Soda Shop as well as the museum adjoining the plant will remain open. The plant already has been renamed Dublin Bottling Works Inc.
The plant will stay open, although 14 of the 40 employees were laid off. Three have been hired by the group, and others are being interviewed, Barnes said.
Dr Pepper Snapple Group sued the Dublin company in federal court in June, saying it was selling Dr Pepper outside the six-county territory included in its licensing agreement, and was not authorized to use the name Dublin Dr Pepper on its merchandise.
Dr Pepper Bottling Co. of Dublin countersued in state court. Both lawsuits were dismissed after the companies reached an agreement under which the group bought all the sales and distribution operations, along with the right to distribute in the six counties.
Wooldridge said that like Bonnell, she'll be making Triple XXX Root Beer floats. She added, "It's a sad day that it came to this, but we will prevail."
Reporting by Judy Wiley, editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Paul Thomasch