Published: Jul 04, 2013 6:26 PM EDT

FORT MYERS, Fla.- Fort Myers is preparing for Freedom Fest. It's expected to draw at least 15,000 people to the downtown River District.

Freedom Fest organizers are blocking off fewer streets this year, in an attempt to improve traffic flow. They're encouraging retail shops to open this evening, and some places are heeding that call. Others are staying shut down. That's a let-down to one woman who came downtown early, hoping to shop.

"We always take a field trip to do some shopping! And we can't shop! So, that is a disappointment, a little bit," said Christine Gross.

Restaurants and bars had no problem, racking up big business, even in the early afternoon.

Mark Brown is a partner in the group that owns three downtown restaurants.

"We're expecting a great night in Fort Myers," Brown said. "I think it's great for local business. Holidays are always great for us as business owners, and for the community as well."

The big events start at 6:00 p.m., when bands perform on stages near the River Basin, and in Patio De Leon. The music continues until about 9:00 p.m. Then, people will be encouraged to gather at the riverfront to watch the main event: fireworks over the Caloosahatchee.

"It's one of our biggest events of the year. It's probably second largest. New Year's Eve is the largest, but thousands of people will come downtown for the  biggest and best fireworks display in the area," said Suzy Lewis.

Fireworks start at 9:30 p.m. and the show will last about 20 to 25 minutes.