Stephanie Sheldon of Cleveland Flea, Indie Foundry and more helps makers make good: My Cleveland

August 2, 2018

Stephanie Sheldon of Cleveland Flea, Indie Foundry and more helps makers make good: My Cleveland

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Stephanie Sheldon runs Indie Foundry, the popular Cleveland Flea and other businesses, mostly helping local makers make good.

Cleveland creds: Moved here in 2007 from her native Michigan

Currently lives: AsiaTown

Age: 39

Schooling: Bachelor’s and master’s in architecture from the University of Michigan

Household: Dog, Churro, and cat, Simon

Favorite locally owned places for food: Soho, Il Rione, Mason’s Creamery

Visitors have to climb lots of steps and wend long hallways to reach your business. Could you tell us about this complex?

Stephanie: It’s big brick buildings six stories tall. If someone shot a movie in Cleveland, they’d want old buildings like these. They were the Tyler Elevator Co. 

The complex is enclosed like an industrial town square. The train runs alongside it. We do the Flea on the parking lot and the grass.

We don’t have a giant parking lot. I want people to walk through AsiaTown.

What’s India Foundry about?

Stephanie: It’s a place to support, celebrate and grow independent founders of fast-growing startups—people like me. It’s coaching and business consulting. We work with Harness Cycle. We work with Rala Bala foods and fitness. We’ve worked with Sacred Hour spa in Lakewood. We’ve worked with Piccadilly Creamery.

I’m working for RMS and American Greetings. American Greetings came to me to do a visioning study of their company store at their new headquarters.

What’s the Flea all about?

 Stephanie: We run April through October outside from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the second Saturday of the month. This is our sixth season.

Vendors only get in with high-quality goods and services. We probably get over 1,000 applications per season. We only work with about 350 businesses per year.

We work with them to improve. We encourage them to have a limited supply of something you can only get here. They pay a flat fee.

We are the bedrock of the small, creative business economy here. We have 10,000 shoppers in a day. We contribute over $1 million a year in gross revenue on just seven days.

 A lot of businesses started at the Flea and graduated to storefronts, typically in one to three months: Cleveland Bagel, Mason’s Creamery, Brew Nuts...

What sorts of visitors do you get?

Stephanie: We have blends of four kinds. We have the maker fanatic. They love new and interesting gifts crafted with care. We’ve got the treasure hunter, the classic flea market person. We’ve got the small batch scout, who’s more interested in food and really unique offerings and connecting with the maker. We love the West Side Market because we meet the people behind the stuff. Then we have the see-and-be-seen people who come to events for social reasons.

The overarching person is a lover of Cleveland. Most people probably spend $100 more or less.

The first season, a lot of people who love bargain-basement stuff showed up and said, “I could just get that at Walmart or make it myself.” But I don’t want them at the Flea, and we don’t get them any more.

How hard is it to set up the Flea each month?

Stephanie: It’s kind of like moving three homes. We’ve added storage on a lower floor here.

 Does weather shut down the Flea?

Stephanie: We’re Cleveland, right? If the Browns don’t cancel, we don’t cancel. But we close down if it’s a 35-miles-per-hour wind for over an hour.

Last May, a full hailstorm came through. We shut down at noon that day. That storm destroyed a ton of tents.

What brought you to the Buckeye State from That School Up North?

Stephanie: I’d been looking at Rust Belt cities. I wanted a place that needed someone to love it. I wanted to launch creative projects and help the city at the same time.

Clevelanders feel born into ruin. They’ve watched their city decline. As an outsider, all I see is the creative possibility.

I typically do things that people don’t understand. When people say, ‘Why would you move to Cleveland?’ or ’Why would you have a flea market,” I know I’m on the right track.

What’d you do here at first?

Stephanie: I was working for Process Creative Studios. Pretty soon the economy went into the recession. I launched a side business of graphic design for wedding invitations and small makers. The makers’ photography wasn’t any good. They weren’t getting hits on social media. We could fix that. Anyone doing stuff with high quality would shoot up to the top.

Trevor Clutterbuck of Fresh Fork Market was my first client. I started taking photos of all my produce from Fresh Fork and posting them. He noticed. I sat him down one day and said, ‘Your photos are terrible. Your logo is terrible. Your product’s really good.’

You don’t mince words, do you?

Stephanie: It’s caring to tell people how they can get better versus pretending that everyone’s OK.

Then came the Flea?

Stephanie: Clients kept complaining that they couldn’t make any money. So I started the Flea, where you could put your stuff on a table and sell your brand personally.

Got any new ventures lately?

Stephanie: We’re starting the Staycation Club for fans of Cleveland. We’re doing creative social events in neighborhoods, like walks and lunch dates.

And the Creative Clubhouse?

Stephanie: It’s a big room here geared to support women and women-identifying people unlocking their creative potential. People walk in and say, “This is Cleveland?” All the walls are covered in pink. There’s a rainbow, too. We have classes and coffee hours and happy hours.

Where do you live?

Stephanie: I just moved to Asia Town. I’m turning my house in Edgewater into an Airbnb for creative people. It’s called the Wes Anders Inn for Wes Anderson, the filmmaker.

What do you do for fun?

Stephanie: I do a lot of cooking with food from Fresh Fork and the Shaker farmers’ market. My new apartment has a big open kitchen with huge windows and trees and birds chirping.

I do woodworking and renovations, too. I’m a creator at heart.

For more information, see theclevelandflea.com.

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