Part urban treasure hunt, part culinary adventure, part maker center.
At first glance, the sizable spread of booths and tables at the Cleveland Flea may not meet your expectation of the typical flea market.
While the market is speckled with your typical (and atypical) vintage and antiques dealers (this happy shopper got a kitschy trench coat at Black Kitten Vintage), the real draw is in the overwhelming showing from some of the region’s most talented and eclectic “makers.”
Organizers proclaim it “an organized maze of experiences, celebrating the thrill of the hunt and discovery of new-to-you treasures.” A maze it is, in a good way, with more than 100 vendors set up and thousands of customers clamoring throughout the day.
But the real treat you’ll find once inside is the lovely array of handmade goods, crafted from new and repurposed materials. Many vendors are hawking their own wares, from locally made jewelry and wearables, to art and crafts, and yes, even artisan food. All of the vendors we encountered were friendly, knowledgeable and happy to chat while we perused their creations.
And if you have a morning to spend, you can learn from those artisans by taking classes and workshops in the monthly Maker Center, aimed at connecting local talent with the community. On this visitor’s romp, the Maker Center was offering a build-your-own terrarium workshop for just $30, including all of the materials.
According to founder Stephanie Sheldon, the Flea is “a mix of artisans, small businesses. It’s a temporary architecture of a new economy. That’s a fancy way to say we’re a pop-up market that supports local Cleveland businesses.”
Sheldon is the owner of Indie Foundry, a Cleveland-based branding and visioning company for creative businesses. She created the Cleveland Flea as an event to celebrate the creative small businesses she works with daily— small businesses that don’t have other brick-and-mortar means to promote and sell their work.
“It’s not just a flea market. It’s an incubator for small businesses.”
Many credit the Flea with revitalizing the surrounding St. Clair neighborhood. The St. Clair Superior Development Corporation (nonprofit fiscal agent for the Flea) received a 2014 Community Impact Award and $12,500 from Dominion East Ohio for the Cleveland Flea program and its work in rejuvenating the East Side neighborhood.
The 2013 Holiday Flea alone attracted 10,000 shoppers, who generated $100,000 in neighborhood economic activity. The Cleveland Flea and other St. Clair Superior Development programs have spawned five new businesses and boosted existing neighborhood enterprises.
The Flea is also the best place to enjoy and support Cleveland’s vibrant food truck and artisanal food scene. The first stop you’ll want to make before you get lost in the organized chaos is Nathan’s Coffee Roasting for a delicious cup of pour-over coffee. And if it’s a bit later in the day? Swap Nathan’s for a Boozy Sno Cone (adults only!).
This urban treasure hunter traveled to the Flea bright and early for the June 14 bazaar, the last to be held in its original location at Sterle’s Country House (1401 E. 55th St.).
Read on for our treasure-laden list of stops along the hunt.
The phrase “23 skidoo” historically has meant “being of high spirits.” Designer Courtney McCrone has long desired for all women to be of good spirits, and it is for this purpose that 23 Skidoo Clothes was created. She started sewing and making clothes for friends and family at age 8. Now, her playful smocks and whimsical tops are a big draw at each month’s Flea, and she is capturing her passion for the energy of Cleveland in her designs.
C.IRENE PHOTOGRAPHIC GOODS
Though a native (and recently returned) Clevelander, the artist behind c.irene started out printing her photos onto canvas bags in Brooklyn, New York. Back in Cleveland, Christine Irene Cotter spends her days photographing and sewing her unique behind-the-shutter views onto bags, canvas prints and even journals.
What you see is what you get at Cleveland Kraut: raw, unpasteurized, lacto-fermented sauerkraut crafted in Cleveland, Ohio. Available in classic, sweet red and curry variations, but the real headline is the bestselling “Gnar Gnar,” made spicy with hot sauce, habanero and chili flakes by creators Drew Anderson and Luke Visnic.
Cleveland A mobile conveyor of one of America’s favorite confections. The street-side donut lab creates mini donuts—topped with cinnamon sugar and powdered sugar, yum! A regular at the Flea and other area events, the business also will cater parties.
FOREST CITY PORTAGE
Forest City Portage began in a bedroom of a third-floor apartment on Cleveland’s West Side by self-taught owner/designer Michael Hudecek and is now housed in the former Templar Motor Car Co. in Lakewood. Hudecek calls his bags—ranging from small tool pouches ($16) to large backpacks ($178 and up)—“tough as nails” for the Cordura material used in their construction. Although utilitarian by nature, style isn’t far from the equation. The ones on display at the Flea were masculine with an eccentric edge.
Fount is a design house based in Cleveland with a focus on quality crafted leather goods. The company is headed by husband and wife creative team Phillip and Jackie Wachter, and the pair craft bags and totes, belts, jewelry for people and collars for dogs, and other small leather goods that rival those of even the largest fashion houses.
Jewelry designer Kristen Rogusz makes chic, affordable wearables, including signature ball chain wraps made popular by the big design houses last fall. Think of them as friendship bracelets you can wear even if you’ve outgrown the playground.
Don’t let the menu fool you, you won’t find your favorite Mexican dish at this booth. Lil’ Burritos is a design boutique specializing in printing cute, affordable clothing and décor for kids. One part graphic designer (Alex Rodgers) and one part elementary school teacher (Stephanie Rericha), the store is a fusion of the latest in both kids fashion and modern design. Whether or not you’ve brought the kids to the Flea, a stop by this booth and you’ll head home with adorable and affordable gear for your own lil’ burritos, including onesies ($15), nursery mobiles ($18) and nightlights ($15). Did we mention that the clothing is wrapped in a foil burrito?
LIZA MICHELLE JEWELRY
With an emphasis on quality and design, Liza Michelle Jewelry prides itself on handcrafted, nature-inspired jewelry for the modern adventurer. Each piece is thoughtfully crafted with care and attention to detail, and the silver, bronze and gold used to create the jewelry is all recycled. Liz Rifkin’s signature line of twig jewelry is cast using hand-picked twigs from around her Cleveland studio.
THE REPUBLIC OF CUTE
This 2013 recipient of Cleveland magazine’s Best of Cleveland Award artfully sculpts the quirkiest of critters out of polymer clay in all the world’s rainbow colors. The Republic of Cute is just that: a place where adorable miniatures reign supreme. If you happen to inquire of creator Karly West, “just what are these cute collectibles for?” she’ll tell you that each figurine is blessed and bestowed with magical powers. Even if you don’t believe in magical talismans— no matter how cute—they still will look great perched on a shelf.
The artisans of Slainte Home, which is named for the Irish way of saying “cheers,” create household products and furniture from indigenous hardwoods and reclaimed wood, along with slate from old barn roofing and hardware forged by a local blacksmith. Products include small serving items such as trivets and breadboards ($45 and up), along with smartphone docking accessories, coat racks and larger cottage furniture.
The corner butcher shop returns to the neighborhood thanks to Saucisson, named for the large, thick French sausage. Saucisson’s mission is to provide the unique and hard-to-find, from artisan-cured farm fresh meats to specially spiced sausages (chorizo!).
STAG AND BIRCH
By utilizing reclaimed wood from old structures around the Midwest, a trio of designer/carpenter/musicians repurposes what once was to make it new again. Their creativity takes the form of urban furniture with modern lines denoting the history from which it springs.
The Cleveland Flea is held on second Saturdays at 3615 Superior Ave. E from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
It also hosts a popular Sunday monthly Parisian-style antique and brunch market in the happening Hingetown area of Ohio City (more on that in a future Roam, we think).
For more information, dates and a directory of vendors, visit TheClevelandFlea.com.