Artisans Look For Other Sales Opportunities With Cleveland Flea Hiatus

Artist Chris Deighan created this drawing of the Cleveland Flea
Artist Chris Deighan created this drawing of the Cleveland Flea highlighting the market of makers and small businesses. [Chris Deighan]
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Billy Ritter makes an array of earth-toned ceramic sculptures in his studio on Cleveland’s West Side and relies on various events to sell his mugs and bowls.

“I get really excited on show days, and it’s legit excited,” he said. “It would be like if you’re an athlete, like, that’s the day of your game.”

Billy Ritter in his Cleveland studio

Billy Ritter works with clay in his studio on Cleveland's West Side [Carrie Wise \ ideastream]

With the Cleveland Flea on pause this year, he and other vendors that sell their wares at the market are looking for ways to make up for the lost business.

“I had to think about other angles of how I can come back to the black and be profitable with what I’m trying to do as a maker,” Ritter said. “That was a great event,”

He’s contemplating starting an online shop and planning to focus on other shows, including markets organized by Wildroots. He’s scheduled for several of their events for makers at the Van Aken District in Shaker Heights.

Some of Billy Ritter's ceramic sculptures on display in his studio in Cleveland. [Carrie Wise / ideastream]

The founder of the Cleveland Flea, Stephanie Sheldon, is rethinking the popular marketplace this year. She said expectations are high and the events are expensive, in part due to liabilities with crowd size.

“There’s not enough of me to go around to both deliver to a very robust business community and then also 10,000 shoppers,” Sheldon said.

Vendors ideastream spoke with were disappointed but understanding of Sheldon’s decision. They all said, while Cleveland Flea was a profitable event, their businesses will survive without it. 

Chris Deighan wears some of his art

Chris Deighan wears some of his designs as seen in Cleveland's West Side Market. [Carrie Wise / ideastream]

“From a protective standpoint, it's important to not be fully dependent on one thing anyways, so maybe a new event will come up. Maybe other events around here will continue to grow,” said Chris Deighan, who sells his city drawings printed on paper products and clothing.

Deighan estimated he works 60 days a year at markets and art shows, like Cleveland Bazaar and Willoughby ArtsFest. Profitability varies from event to event, and it’s largely dependent on how many shoppers show up, he said.

“There's a whole number of factors that go into that, social media participation by the artists and crafters themselves, advertisement by the people who put the event on and then experience of customers, if it's something they want to come back to,” he said.

Chris Deighan's booth at the Cleveland Flea

Artist Chris Deighan's booth at the Cleveland Flea [Chris Deighan]

In addition to selling at events, Deighan has an online shop.

“So far we’ve had a better experience with in-person sales, but our online presence started small and it grows each year,” he said. “The more times we show up in person, the more sales we seem to get online, especially going around to other cities.”

Another regular Cleveland Flea vendor, The Circle Craft, a husband-wife team of jewelry makers, also travels to other cities for events, including Chicago, Pittsburgh and Columbus. They plan to “find a way to take on custom work or other shows” to make up for the loss of Cleveland Flea sales, according to Danielle Allen, one part of the jewelry-making duo.

Illustrator Lucy Williams credited the Cleveland Flea for launching her art business, Boundary & Thorn, which includes her prints of drinks, plants and food puns. In addition to in-person sales, she has an online shop and merchandise in a couple of West Elm stores in Ohio.

Lucy Williams poses with her illustrations for sale.

Lucy Williams poses with a table of her Boundary & Thorn illustrations for sale. [Lucy Williams]

“I never thought I could sell my work and make money that was, like, lucrative, that could support me, until I did my first Cleveland Flea,” she said.

After a year of doing various art events full time, Williams has since taken on a 9-5 job in illustration.  Because it’s hard to be sure new events will turn a profit, she said she plans to take a break this year.

“It is your whole weekend, and if it's not worth it, I don't want to be driving… back and forth to do a show in Pittsburgh on my weekend if I'm not going to make as much money and not have as much fun as doing the Cleveland Flea,” she said.

One of Lucy Williams illustrations

Lucy Williams said she often does food-inspired art, like this French press drawing. [Lucy Williams]


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