The Cleveland Flea
Monthly Marketplace Showcases the Handmade Side of CLE
By Lexi Hotchkiss
If you want to buy cheaply designed household goods, mass produced clothing and other products that were bulk manufactured in China, may we suggest a jaunt through your nearest big box retailer?
If you’re looking for original artwork, hand-crafted household items, vintage trinkets, custom-made jewelry and original clothing designs that have all been made by someone’s actual hands right here in Northeast Ohio, then the Cleveland Flea is where it’s at.
The Cleveland Flea is an event that was started in 2013 by local business owner Stephanie Sheldon. Her daytime gig is with Indie Foundry, a firm focused on branding and design for “creative businesses, dreamers, doers and makers.” The Flea, she says, was simply an extension of her business.
“I realized that creative business owners need community and access to consumers – and they need it consistently,” she said.
That’s why, each month from April through October, more than 175 small businesses, artists and makers converge on a timeworn industrial manufacturing complex to create a marketplace for all things creative.
What will shoppers find?
Sheldon explains that all businesses fall into one of three categories:
Flea Finds: These items, which are very true to the flea market concept, include vintage or “salvage” items. This could include everything from vintage dresses, nostalgia, classic toys and jewelry.
Handmade: These are the items that you wouldn’t dare call “crafty,” but rather “hand-crafted” (after all, the people who made them have profession-based skills). Making up most of the event’s offerings, those in the Handmade category include leather bags, one-of-a-kind pottery and ceramics, metal cast jewelry, original furniture design and handmade clothing.
Small Batch: This is all the food and drink. Lucky for shoppers, the Flea has a small-batch cocktail and small-batch beer bar for your enjoyment. Plus, there’s a ton of food trucks. On top of that, shoppers will find everything from homemade pickles to hand-spun pasta.
Besides operating as a small business incubator for creative businesses, the event also seeks to showcase the neighborhoods and buildings in which it takes place. Organizers encourage shoppers to experience the neighborhood and support the businesses surrounding the Flea’s location.
“I always knew the Flea would be a neighborhood-based catalyst for economic and real-estate development if we did it the right way,” she said. “And, for me, the number one thing was finding a location that is an historical landmark in Cleveland.”
Currently, the Cleveland Flea takes place inside an Asia Town building complex that once housed the Tyler Elevator Company. The location showcases how the city is actively linking itself to its industrial past.
“Old manufacturing can give new life to small-batch manufacturing,” said Sheldon. “We might not be manufacturing elevators. But, these are all people putting their hands to work and producing quality products—that’s the connection between our past and present.
The Cleveland Flea’s success has been rather impressive, to say the least. What started as an event that drew around 1,500 now draws up to 25,000.
Organizers also have extended versions of the event into additional neighborhoods including their Sunday Markets in Ohio City’s Hingetown pocket, as well as Night Markets held in Asia Town this summer.
For travelers looking to visit, the Flea offers just about the best way to buy some of the coolest “souvenirs” from your visit. But according to Sheldon, the event shows a different side of Cleveland to outsiders.
“This is what Cleveland pride feels like. It’s the same kind of energy as you’d experience at a sports game except there’s no winner or loser. Everyone wins.”