INDEPENDENCE — There’s something in the air in downtown Independence. From new businesses to those who are coming soon — evidenced by the brown paper in the windows — from the potential of development on the riverfront, Independence looks set to boom.
While those who shop downtown or take a stroll down Main Street may sense it, the feeling of excitement is more concentrated in a meeting of the Independence Downtown Association.
“I feel like, where we are now is we have new businesses on Main Street who are actively participating, and so that’s bringing a new energy,” said Kate Schwarzler, president of the IDA board of directors. “There’s a greater sense of collaboration among businesses. I think we’re all recognizing that we can all help each other out, and together we can be stronger.”
One new face is that of IDA’s downtown manager, Alexandra Ferrara, a RARE participant working with IDA through the end of July.
Schwarzler said volunteer-run organizations often get into a cycle of rinse-and-repeat, creating annual traditions. IDA membership and its board are interested in building on those well-established traditions.
For example, the annual Walk of Hearts sold nearly twice as many as last year.
Through reinvigorated efforts, the downtown association was able to nearly double its sales of Valentine’s Day hearts this year, 111 sold compared to 58 last year. The biggest difference was the availability of purchasing a sentiment online.
“We don’t have to re-create the wheel,” Schwarzler said. “I would like to see us stretch our goals. We could accomplish so much more if we increased our fundraising, or had a bigger presence, or got some branding education about who we are.”
One of the things IDA purchases each year are the flowering baskets that hang from the downtown light posts throughout the summer. The organization would like to be able to hang more baskets, particularly as downtown has grown on C Street and the addition of Osprey Lane.
“Those costs are rising,” Schwarzler said. “That’s something that we’d love to continue doing and even expand, so we need to make sure we have the money to do that.”
An even bigger challenge lies on the horizon: bringing back the Hop and Heritage festival.
“We have just started meeting about it and putting out the beginning, planning prep work,” Ferrara said. “We’re rebranding it as the Hop and Heritage Block Party instead of festival.”
Plans are in the works to bring the party back on the street, closing down Main Street on Sept. 15. Business owners are excited to get involved in the planning, including recruiting breweries to participate.
Bringing it back on the street means businesses will be able to open their doors and welcome the community rather than hope they get overflow from the festival, Schwarzler said.
“It would be a shame to see the Hop and Heritage Festival go away or just lose its energy, because the community is really unique in that the hop history is really cool, the heritage is phenomenal,” she said. “We have a really incredible Main Street with all these historic buildings. I think it kind of becomes part of the background sometimes and maybe we take it for granted.”
IDA needs volunteers for the Hop and Heritage Block Party, not only on the day, but getting prepared on committees. But that’s not all.
“I have a sense that there are community members out there that love our downtown, who would love to help out, they just don’t know how,” Schwarzler said.
IDA members are coordinating a Vintage Trailer Rally during April, and are organizing a make-your-own flower basket on May 12 with the option to preorder a premade basket, on time for Mother’s Day.
The association also coordinates the Christmas Parade of Lights and after-party, as well as helps with the Santa Train efforts.
The group also supports other efforts.
“I see more collaborating with the chamber and the city,” Schwarzler said. “The idea isn’t to compete against each other. Everybody has the same goal of making this an incredible community and having a really strong business presence.”
For more information about IDA, or to volunteer: firstname.lastname@example.org.