OTRview II: The City Flea
Nick Dewald from The City Flea was kind enough to be the second guest in our series of OTRviews. He and his wife Lindsay are the creators of The City Flea which will be coming to Cincinnati this summer. (Lindsay was traveling at the time of this interview, hence the following answers are from Nick.) For more on Nick, Lindsay and The City Flea check our their recent discussions with Soapbox Cincinnati here and the Cincinnati Enquirer here.
If you’re interested in becoming a vendor at The City Flea, go here. Also, make sure to follow the Flea on facebook and twitter. If you want to contact them directly, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
The OTRview is like any old interview except it is about OTR as it is seen and experienced by those who are most fond of the historic neighborhood. We hope to address OTR’s progress, problems, preservation, pride, etc. in this series of OTRviews. If you know a good candidate for an OTRview, please contact us. Our first OTRview was with Casey Coston and can be viewed here.
Nick and Lindsay of The City Flea
photo credit: Loft3 Photo & Design
You appreciate Over-the-Rhine. When did you first learn about and/or experience OTR? How has your perception of it changed since your first impression? Was it love at first sight?
My early introductions to OTR were spotty in high school and undergraduate college years- volunteering for ReStoc, visiting sites for an architectural studio projects, watching the movie “Traffic”, seeing masked vandals set fire to Findlay Market during the riots, etc. Seeing and experiencing the neighborhood thru these avenues made it seem like a complete novelty to me as a bright eyed west sider. In my defense, the neighborhood was in fact more dangerous then, I was young, and probably appeared as a complete novelty on the streets of OTR myself- so the experience was probably exaggerated in every way. By no means was it love at first sight- probably closer to the opposite.
As I began to explore more of the city and more of the world I became increasingly interested in Cincinnati history and historic architecture. I seem to have a deep seeded interest in density and the nostalgic years when cities were packed and filthy. Since OTR is one of the few neighborhoods in the country where the infrastructure is still in tact from those days- I was naturally enchanted by it. During graduate school I gave architectural tours of East OTR through “Architreks” which is still giving tours all over the city and will soon be known as Cincinnati-Walks. It was fun relaying all the amazing bits of information that I had learned to so many visitors and Cincinnatians alike that had no idea about the area’s history.
When I look down streets in OTR I see the potential for a neighborhood that would be like very few others in the country. Sure there are similar types of places in New York and Chicago but I think that few cities really have the scale and balance that OTR does. It was built when people used urban environments like they are supposed to be used and is still largely in tact and waiting for people to use it like that again. European cities are the most comparable that Ive seen for how OTR is set up to function. There, much of the built environment of city centers has also survived the test of time as well and therefore they are still able to support true “urban living”. My perception of OTR now is that is it much more sustainable. I use that word not as a synonym for ‘endure’ in the ‘green’ sense, but as one for ‘support’ or ‘maintain’. OTR once again has options for things like groceries, coffee, books, fitness, and clothing- there are places to bring clients for lunch, furnish your home, and let the dog run around. The neighborhood can’t sustain itself on a diet of night clubs, diners, and lofts with two-car garages. Im no expert, but I see a lot more long term businesses and residential options all over the neighborhood. The “all over” part is also another big piece of the puzzle in my mind. Back in my early days of observing OTR, there were places that I was told (by everyone) to never go- now I feel like I can walk down just about any street without much to worry about (It doesnt hurt that I have an 80 lb dog with me most times). Things are looking up again and the neighborhood seems to have a confidence level that, if I had to guess, it hasnt probably had since before WWII.
The City Flea’s website states:
“It is important to note that The City Flea was not born in Brooklyn- it sprouted after its creators moved back to the Queen City and saw first hand that the city is now teeming with creativity, energy, and people who are excited about selling, shopping, and staying local. The city can absolutely support this type of event and hopefully it will help support the city.”
Could you elaborate on that? How has changed Cincinnati since you left it? What role do you think OTR’s renaissance has played in cultivating Cincy’s new energy?
Partly because when we lived in Cincinnati last my view was blinded by the time obligations of architecture school and partly because I think a lot has happened in the last few years, Cincinnati and OTR seem to have evolved a ton since we left. What is so apparent to me is the revitalizing and “doing” community of businesses and residents who seem to be such a large group now and so tight knit. The size, power, and energy of this community seem to be increasing exponentially as they should. The stability that this core group provides seems to be giving way to a lot of creative expression. It is a lot easier to decide to rent a storefront on Main Street and sell something unique knowing that there is a growing handful of solid active neighboring businesses like Park + Vine, Atomic No. 10, and MOTR, who are open during real hours every day. The days of stores being open one or two days a week on Main Street are about to be over. It used to be that on Final Fridays my optimism was high and the rest of the month was pretty low. Currently I see a great balance and feel like the success and momentum OTR are dramatically less vulnerable.
The success of the Gateway quarter needs no explanation. I think that its progress will be incredibly bolstered by the proximity to a freshly renovated Washington Park once its done. I think in ten years the area around Washington Park is going to be the most desirable real estate in the urban core.
OTR offers a vibe that you cant find downtown. Downtown is great and has a host of unique benefits, but the continued improvement of OTR and the resulting energy will serve to entice young creative people to relocate to Cincinnati in the future. Everything I have ever read or observed says that this is the key to the success of a city and I think that for that reason the entire metropolitan area of Cincinnati has an invested interest in the success of OTR. The minute we start being the go-to city for all of the most cosmopolitan college grads from surrounding midwestern cities, people from Hyde Park to Brighton will start seeing the positive effects. The importance of things like dog parks, bike paths, and street cars cannot be stressed enough when considering marketing our city to young visitors who are perhaps making their first judgements about the city when visiting a cousin or singing in the Choir Games.
Anyone who has visited the City Flea’s website can tell that it is much more than a flea market. What do you want the City Flea to accomplish?
One of our biggest challenges is conveying the concept behind The City Flea. It is difficult to explain to people how this “flea market” aims to be different than what they know as a “flea market”. No matter what we say, it is clear that some people are still envisioning pickup trucks and bargain baskets. A lot of people expect have to dust off whatever they come home from a flea market with. There will of course still be vintage items around, but there will also be some of the most creative and current items that you can find in the city.
We also are hoping that the flea acts as a summertime place of congruence for all things OTR and Downtown. We hope that people naturally will walk to the Flea after they leave Findlay Market; leave the Flea and head to a performance at one of the theaters nearby, grab dinner in the Gateway Quarter or Downtown, sit down for a cocktail, take an architectural tour, stop in some nearby shops, etc, etc, etc. We are hoping to work with the local businesses and organizations to market these obvious connections. One of our main goals behind locating it where we have is to appeal to those from more distant areas who still might not feel comfortable coming to a lot in OTR without knowing exactly where it is and where to park. This group of people might not realize how many restaurants are within walking distance of where they parked their car or what sorts of other events are going on around them. As much as we want people to attend the market, we also want them to get to know Downtown and OTR as well. A number of established OTR businesses will have booths and will hopefully be able to reach people that they normally might not. My parents are a perfect example of people who live in a not too distant suburb but love coming downtown and going to Findlay and taking tours and things. Since people in their shoes arent down here walking the streets very often, it takes events like Bockfest, Second Sundays on Main, the OTR 5K, Fountain Square Events, Taste of Cincinnati, and others to bring them here. While The City Flea will showcase wares from all over town it also aims to become a more ongoing event that can be an easy excuse to do something in city center and be a starting point for a full day of urban activities. We hope to not take away from any of the aforementioned events but rather follow in their footsteps and work towards making weekend urban experiences more of a routine than an activity to mark on your calendar a few times a year. (Ironically, The City Flea is at this point technically an activity to mark on your calendar a few times a year, but its the first step towards a more frequent and established urban mainstay)
Location of The City Flea
This summer the City Flea will be located on the southwest corner of the intersection of Central Pkwy and Vine St. Have you started thinking about where to house the Flea during the winter?
We dont really want to get ahead of ourselves regarding the possibility of any pop up indoor flea events. Right now we are concentrating on getting people excited to attend and contribute to the urban flea market experience. We are praying for good weather and trying to make sure that when people set foot into the shadow of the Cincinnatus Mural on June 4, that they find an overall experience unlike any that they are used to. We want people to not see our market as something to try once, but something that you go to each month just because its fun and at very least it will be an interesting place to grab lunch. I can say for sure that there will be new vendors each month so it is safe to assume that the experience will be different every time.
Ok, better wrap this up…
How did living in a thriving urban environment like Brooklyn affect your feelings about Cincinnati and OTR. What can your new city learn from your old one?
It kills me when I tell people that we lived in Brooklyn or New York City (I choose the level of specificity based on the personality that Im addressing) and they smile but immediately react negatively.. I’ve had people say they would never live in New York because they wouldnt want to always have to worried about getting mugged. New York seems to me to be one of the only truly “urban” environments left in the country and for that reason it is actually one of the safest. The reason is not because there arent drug deals going on or sketchy people all over, but because those bad things are easily overshadowed by the people all around who were just living life. For every unstable panhandler, there were five people on their way to work. For every loitering teenager, there were three shop owners sweeping the sidewalk. Activity on the streets provided a complete sense of security. And because we felt safe, we became part of that security blanket- a young couple walking their dog was a good sight to see on a dark street for a mother pushing a stroller.
I have been saying for years now that Cincinnati has this chicken and egg sort of problem where the apartment buildings downtown and in OTR are full of people who moved there looking for an urban lifestyle, but when you walk the streets sometimes it is hard to see any of them. Sadly, (and this problem is getting much better in the last couple years) these people dont have all that many places to go. Especially downtown, there are a ton of small restaurants and shops, but 3 out of 4 of them close at 5pm. The big chain restaurants have the ability to take the risk, but small places are in a pickle. Businesses are reluctant to extend hours because they dont see potential customers walking around past 5 and potential customers arent walking around past 5 because not much is open. It has been a breathe of fresh air that more and more businesses are popping up that are taking risks, and I think they are adding a lot of life to the streets. The way to keep the ball rolling is to walk to Findlay Market instead of driving, take the short cut that might not seem as safe, toss football in the alley, plant flowers in front of your building- and just be seen. In Brooklyn, what inspired Lindsay and I much more than banners on street lights or additional street cleaning, was spontaneity- a guy sitting on a bench playing the guitar just for fun, kids who had jumped a fence to swim in a public pool at night, a women doing tai chi in a far corner of the park, etc, etc, etc. There was always something entertaining to look at no matter what bench, curb, or stoop we sat on in Brooklyn. There are obviously people all around us here who play an instrument, do yoga, dance, or love a sport. It would be great it if they saw their neighborhood as more of a stage for those interests.
As I have mentioned earlier, not many places still have the genuinely ‘urban’ infrastructure in tact that OTR does. There is seemingly an endless supply of small business retail space, a massive stock of residences ready for rental or purchase, plenty of office space, multiple parks of various sizes, dozens of large empty spaces ready to become music venues, and the list goes on and on. OTR is sitting ready to become what it once was and was built to be- an efficient bustling machine of city life. Living in an active place like Brooklyn makes me see the amazing potential of OTR. We cannot ignore how lucky Cincinnati is to have a neighborhood with as much history and charm as OTR that has dodged the bullets of urban renewal and the surface parking lot epidemic. It is awesome to see how many new stores, restaurants, bars, and businesses are opening up and succeeding. My hope is that with all these new points of interest will come additional scenes of aimless urban life that will enliven the streets and allow OTR to reach its amazing potential as a truly urban neighborhood working at full steam.
This blog about OTR is very thankful for The City Flea’s participation in this interview and its presence in urban Cincinnati.
PS – If you’re interested in becoming a vendor at The City Flea, go here. Also, make sure to follow the Flea on facebookand twitter. If you want to contact them directly, send an email to email@example.com