CLEVELAND FLEA FOUNDER, 34
With a measuring tape in hand, Stephanie Sheldon plots a floor plan inside the 90-year-old Slovenian National Home to fit 90 artisans, 28 food vendors and six handmade-focused classes.
It's two weeks away from the Cleveland Flea's inaugural holiday show, and Sheldon breezes through prep work any other event planner might have done months ago.
She nimbly checks off every detail — flow of foot traffic, access to electrical outlets and best spots for signage — while doing on-the-fly math to calculate booth sizes.
"I'm usually more calm than this," says the former architect. "I have the personality that things will go wrong and I don't care. Nothing is a major crisis for me."
Sheldon is the reigning queen of Cleveland creatives — the face behind the Cleveland Flea, a monthly market that runs April through November and blends handmade, vintage and upcycled goods and food vendors. In October, the event drew more than 8,000 people.
The Flea is just one manifestation of the transformation Sheldon has made in her life since 2010, when the architecture firm she was working for, Cleveland-based Michael Augoustidis Architects, closed.
"I could have gone back to designing bathroom plans, but it was soulless for me," she says. "I had to decide, Do I want to pursue this passion work, or do I want to keep stability?"
She chose passion. She's always been a person who makes things and experiences. As a teenager in her native Michigan, she refinished garage sale furniture, redesigned her bedroom — more than once — and baked 10 cakes for her own high school graduation party.
Ditching stability bounced her from project to project. She designed and built the interior of the Cleveland Hostel, sold a line of handmade children's clothing and started a letterpress studio. She is now the owner of Indie Foundry, where she supports startup creative entrepreneurs with marketing and branding.
When it comes to events such as the Flea and her upcoming February bridal event Supa Fresh, Sheldon considers herself less of an organizer and more of a curator.
"I theme [these events] and bring the pieces together in a harmonious way," she says.
In the case of the Flea's holiday show, she created a winter wonderland experience that brought together vintage decorations and holiday-themed DIY classes in a way that transcends the typical art and craft show.
"Craft shows are about selling to the public," she says. "The Flea is about creating a community [among the artisans]."
It's telling that Sheldon didn't pick a hot spot in Ohio City or Tremont for the Flea. Instead, she headed to the St. Clair Superior neighborhood, where boarded-up storefronts border ethnic treasures such as the Slovenian National Home.
"It's vibrancy for a community that needs it," she says. "The Flea is like a treasure hunt for people who come, but it's also a treasure hunt for the city. People have no idea what's here."
Until now, the Flea has occupied neighborhood parking lots or the hall inside of the Slovenian National Home. Sheldon is currently transforming a 30,000-square-foot warehouse into an official home for the Flea, which she envisions could house a weekly mini-Flea in addition to the larger monthly event. She'll also bring the Indie Foundry offices here, as well as her newest venture Creative Clubhouse, a co-work environment for artisans and freelancers.
She's planning to build out storefront space facing East 55th Street to house a restaurant and retail, and create event space accessible to artisans.
"This is where I'm supposed to be," she says. "This is what I'm meant to do."
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