KENNEBUNK – Residents of this quintessential New England town – with neat green parks and Victorian brick buildings lining Main Street – might have breathed a collective sigh of relief Friday when news came that the Zumba prostitution saga was officially over with the sentencing of Alexis Wright.

But after enduring more than a year in a harsh international spotlight – including a Vanity Fair magazine piece titled “Town of Whispers,” countless TV reports, and gossipy websites devoted to the case – folks in Kennebunk weren’t cheering. Many had tried to put the sordid case out of mind long ago, and Friday they mostly wanted to keep doing that.

“I’m not sure it is all over. More people could be charged. You search on the Internet and you still find stories about it,” said Will Bradford, standing in his shop, Will’s Copy Center, in an Odd Fellows lodge building on Main Street. “It’s been a huge embarrassment and annoyance.”

Wright was sentenced to 10 months in jail for running a prostitution operation from her fitness studio in downtown Kennebunk from 2010 to early 2012. The case drew international attention and created gossip all over Maine as names of her alleged “johns” were released in dribs and drabs.

But on Main Street on Friday, there were no cries of “hurray it’s over.” In fact, for every shopkeeper or passer-by who shared an opinion on the case, four or five refused to talk about it. Some said they didn’t know enough about it; others said they didn’t want their names or their businesses’ names attached to the case.

Town officials referred requests for comments to Barry Tibbetts, the town manager, who did not return calls or emails.

Standing over a pile of frames at his shop, The Frame Works on Main Street, Bob Doyle said he was “pretty much glad” that there was some sense of finality. But like others, he felt that the notoriety had sullied the town’s reputation, at least somewhat, and left people here wanting to be left alone.

“The town fathers have spent a lot of time recently improving this area, making it nice to walk around, and this story sort of detracted from that,” said Doyle, who said he didn’t think the case had actually hurt business in town.

“I don’t think it brought people to town either, except for the vulture journalists who came here,” Doyle said.

Some folks on Main Street on Friday said it was still hard to believe the whole thing — the case, the trial and the lists of clients.

“It’s the kind of thing you always think would happen somewhere else. I guess it’s hard for people to believe it was in this little town,” said Jason Perkins, sitting in a folding chair under a shady tree outside Reigning Cats and Dogs, the pet supply and grooming store where he works. “A lot of us haven’t heard that much about it since (the beginning of the trial) so we haven’t paid that much attention.”

Foot traffic in downtown Kennebunk was light Friday, while vehicle traffic was heavy. The town isn’t nearly as touristy or as known as a vacation spot as neighboring Kennebunkport. The main street has handsome Victorian buildings with a few shops tourists might frequent, but also more day-to-day businesses such as Will’s Copy Center, banks, coffee shops and real estate offices.

It’s a small town where shop owners know their customers. So in talking about Wright’s sentencing Friday, Bradford recalled how she had been a customer of his. She had come into his shop often to make copies of schedules for the fitness classes she advertised.

“She was always very nice when she came in here,” Bradford said. “So when I heard, I thought, ‘What? Little Alexis?’ “

Bradford said he was upset that the state had spent so much time and money to prosecute — and in the process, make public — a case involving prostitution. He said the relatively small penalty for Wright — 10 months in jail and more than $58,000 in fines — doesn’t seem worth the expense to the state or the toll on the town.

“I think, in this case, the cure was worse than the disease,” Bradford said.

On York Street, just a block from Main Street, a couple of trucks with the markings of Boston TV stations were parked across from the nondescript commercial building where Wright had her studio. At one point, an angry man shouted a profanity and shoved a cameraman. But then both men got in the same TV truck and closed the doors.

At the Dairy Queen diagonally across from Wright’s former studio, people lined up for cool treats in the 90-degree heat. Maxim Kendall sat on a bench as he waited for his order and said he didn’t really care about the case or its ending.

“I don’t think it matters to people. I know I don’t care about it,” said Kendall, 18. “People will still talk about it, but life goes on.”

Bill White of Old Orchard Beach had stopped at the Dairy Queen on his way to work “at a kitchen down the road.” White said he didn’t think the publicity surrounding the trial had hurt the area’s reputation or tourist economy.

He thinks what it did mostly was give people some titillating stories to write and tell.

“I think it’s just sort of fizzled out over time, like a lot of stories that don’t have a real conclusion,” White said.

 

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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