Lindsay and Nick Dewald started dreaming about the City Flea long before they ever founded it. The couple had lived for two years in New York City and found that the Brooklyn Flea became a staple of their lives in the Big Apple.
Moving back to Cincinnati, they knew they would miss the diversity of the Brooklyn Flea. “The Brooklyn Flea took place literally in our neighborhood, and we just fell in love with it,” says Lindsay.
The couple enjoyed shopping the eclectic stands at the Brooklyn Flea for most of the two and half years they lived there, and they used to go shopping the more than 100 vendors that packed that market.
But they wondered: Would something like that work here, in the city of their childhoods?
A couple weeks of brainstorming yielded a plan for something new downtown: The two decided to run the City Flea, an urban project of sorts that would overtake a parking lot on Vine Street at Central Parkway four weekends in the summer. “We just felt like Cincinnati is ready for an event like this,” says Lindsay. “And Central Parkway gets so much traffic.” So, in the newly-minted Over-The-Rhine, residents got to work floating some ideas for how to make this brainstorm take shape.
The first weekend of the City Flea found a steady stream of folks wandering a packed parking lot full of food stands, small boutiques and unique shops. Vendors were local and regional; the market included Cincinnati favorites like the Taste of Belgium, Park+Vine, Chicken Lays an Egg and Coffee Emporium.
“We estimate that 1,000 people came through at that time,” says Lindsay of that first Saturday, June 4. The flea opened at 11 a.m., and 45 vendors sold their goods until 5 p.m. Each vendor paid a small fee for shops that varied in size. An 8-by-5-foot space cost $55, a 10-by-10-foot space cost $65 and a food vendor paid $75. “We just tried to squeeze as many vendors as we could in the space,” says Lindsay.
Local photographer Amy Elizabeth Spasoff attended that first City Flea. She says she went to photograph the vendors and the atmosphere for her portfolio, but she also went because she just felt curious. “I was very impressed with the organization of it and the location,” Spasoff says. “It was an easy location to get in and out of and for people who are not normal city visitors to find.”
Spasoff also says the set-up of the City Flea closely resembles similar markets in much larger cities. “The variety of booths and the fact that food was mixed in were both great,” she says. “One thing that I was really surprised to see was a booth with concert posters from all over the city from the last 15 years, which if you are looking for something specific, that can be really hard to find if it’s a random band.” Spasoff says she heard others at that first flea market saying similar things about the urban experiment.
The Dewalds then hosted the second City Flea on July 9 and watched their pet project in this piece of urban real estate grow bigger as word spread. The Facebook page for the City Flea grew to over 1,400 “likes,” and the website the two set up for the market started getting all kinds of traffic, Lindsay says.
“It stayed crowded a lot longer that weekend,” says Lindsay of the second weekend. She says she’s still mystified that the Flea has been such a success. Beyond the City Flea, Lindsay is a part-time teacher and works at The Spotted Goose; Nick is an architect. Now, as the couple looks to the third weekend of the Flea, August 6, they hope their dream is becoming a new part of the urban landscape in downtown Cincinnati. They are hopeful the City Flea is on its way to a storied history, Lindsay says. “It’s been so awesome to be a part of this,” says Lindsay. “I hope this will bring even more people downtown. One of our big goals is to get people to come to the city from the suburbs.”
Spasoff says she agrees. She’s making plans to head to as many of the markets as she can. “I would really like to see this progress,” she says. “I think they are quickly going to outgrow that parking lot space, which is a good problem to have.”
And she’s hopeful that as the City Flea grows, it will invite more folks to downtown, she says. “One of my favorite jewelry lines, Hark+Hark, was there,” Spasoff says. “So, I can just see this getting bigger and bigger. I would love to see some street performers and some more things at the market for kids.”
Lindsay says she’s hopeful the Flea will grow that direction, too. “It just felt like a way to better the city that we live in, and I hope we are achieving that in some way,” says Lindsay.