The best way to spend a summer night is with a downtown stroll and a cold drink in hand.

That’s the message Jeff Rogers, director of the Independence Square Association, hopes to send ahead of today’s eighth annual Wine and Brew Walk. The event, which will take place on the Square between 5:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., stands out as the nonprofit’s biggest fundraiser of the year.

In fact, Rogers says he has been planning it for six months.

“It gives us a chance to pull people into the Square who might not come here otherwise,” Rogers said. “People always say, ‘I didn’t know we had that. I didn’t know that was on the Square.’”

For Rogers, this sense of discovery defines the Square’s story. He recalled that 20 years ago, many of the area’s businesses were shuttered. Now, it boasts dozens of tenants and has become a member of Missouri Main Street Connection, an organization helping to revamp historic downtown districts.

Although the Wine and Brew Walk event attracts Independence newcomers – last year, these included guests from Lenexa, Liberty and even Chicago – Rogers also hears from people who grew up in Independence and leave the event with surprise and newfound appreciation.

The Wine and Brew Walk showcases the Square’s businesses, establishing them as a site for attendees to enjoy drinks from local wineries, breweries and distilleries.

“It’s a lot of fun to return to a downtown area that’s full of people walking around,” Rogers said of the evening’s appeal. “You’ll run into people you know, meet new friends and experience unique wines and beers that are locally produced.

“You’ll help local businesses thrive. We know from almost every economic study that the more spent at local businesses, the more immediately goes back to the community.”

Like the Square itself, the Wine and Brew Walk has grown. In its first year, about 200 people attended. In 2017, approximately 850 people flocked to downtown Independence.

Rogers said he believes this number will increase as the Independence Square Association continually strives to make improvements. Going forward, its goals include “sprucing up” the Square and finding more tenants, while still retaining the hub’s history.

“If you haven’t been to the Square in a while, take a couple of hours and enjoy everything it has to offer,” Rogers emphasized. “It’s a wonderful, small town community in a great, big city.”