St. Clair Superior Development Corp. and the Cleveland Flea have rejuvenated a neighborhood.
By Sheehan Hannan
Jordan Lee didn’t think he could make a career out of crafting wallets and watchbands.He had worked in the restaurant industry since he was 17. His leatherwork was a sidebar, something he did just for friends. But the long nights and weekends of culinary life were dragging on him. His girlfriend’s friends used to joke that he must be imaginary, since they never saw him. Striking out on his own was a risk, though.“I’d been selling stuff, and it seemed like people liked it, and there was a demand out there for it,” says Lee. “But you don’t really know if it is going to be successful.”
He followed his heart with the help of the then-fledgling Cleveland Flea, a monthly collection of vendors selling their wares in Cleveland’s St. Clair Superior
Now his company, Wright and Rede, makes leather goods by the half-cow, with Lee cutting, dying and sewing his way into a full-time gig alongside the flea’s 100 to 120 other vendors.
“The flea has always been about creating a community,” says Lee. “You really get a lot from being around people that are going through the same thing that you are.”
The vibrancy of the flea is largely due to founder Stephanie Sheldon, the reigning impresario of the St. Clair Superior neighborhood’s burgeoning craft scene. Her creation, now independent, was initially funded by a partnership with the St. Clair Superior Development Corp. It has since morphed into a full-blown economic powerhouse for vendors and businesses in the neighborhood.
“The flea became an integral part of our theory of change,” says Michael Fleming, executive director of St. Clair Superior Development. “[It] has really created a whole new vision for what we think are important drivers for our neighborhood’s revitalization.”
Along with the flea, St. Clair Superior Development’s programs have spawned five new retailers in the neighborhood and boosted mainstays such as Sterle’s Country House, which have all benefited from the droves of flea attendees.
The 2013 Holiday Flea alone brought in about 10,000 shoppers and $100,000 in economic activity. In addition, the flea has enabled vendors such as Lee to pursue something they didn’t think was possible.
“It expands my world,” he says. “I get to explore more, I can go out and do things. I have a great reason to go check out weird parts of Cleveland, to find inspiration.”