Youngstown Flea Owner Outlines Plans for New Building

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Now that it has a spacious building to call home, Youngstown Flea will expand its presence and its mission.

Think of it as a place for local makers that will borrow elements of Cleveland’s West Side Market and the Youngstown Business Incubator. So says Derrick McDowell, founder and owner of the Flea. 

McDowell purchased the long-vacant Northeast Fabricators factory buildings on East Boardman Street, downtown, for $206,000. He will move the monthly Youngstown Flea to the new location in the 2021 season.

The market, which takes place monthly from spring to fall, has been held in a parking lot on East Front Street, next to Covelli Centre, since McDowell launched it in 2016.

It features local and regional vendors who make and/or sell art, antique and repurposed furniture, vintage clothing, collectibles, jewelry, candles, reclaimed metals/wood, pottery, apparel, food and drink, and fresh produce.

The interior of a factory building that will become the home of Youngstown Flea next year. Visitors got a glimpse of the building Sunday.

McDowell was at the new site Sunday, sharing his vision with Flea vendors and others.

Converting the former foundry and machine shop will be a big task, but McDowell plans to do it one step at a time. He will start with the newer building, built in the 1960s, before tackling the original building, built in 1870. The two structures are connected.

“We’ve got a ton of conversations going right now about what we need to do,” McDowell said. Electrical, plumbing and heating systems will need attention. The building also requires a thorough cleaning and the demolition or renovation of some interior office space.

The Youngstown Flea will take place in the new building and its parking lot next year. The building has glass walls that let in a lot of light, and a large roll-up door.

The long-term plan includes renting space to vendors for longer terms, with at least a handful open every day of the week.

“We want to explore getting [weekday] activity here, create more permanent stall spaces,” McDowell said. “Look at West Side Market. It has long-term and also temporary stalls they rent to vendors, which could be for 30 days – unlike the Flea, which is a one-day event.”

McDowell sees the building becoming a public market and gathering place.

“We could open it up with a lounge area, free Wi-Fi, and six to eight to 10 permanent vendors, and with seasonal (rental) windows,” he said. 

As an example, a fresh-cut flower vendor could use the market as a daily storefront in the spring.

“We could have a place selling fresh sandwiches, or fruit and vegetable cups, and a place where on your way to work you can get coffee and a bagel,” McDowell said.

The other part of his plan is to nurture the vendors inside the market “to enhance their chances of becoming stronger and more sustainable.”

It is a business model that he calls “Flea school,” and to do it, McDowell said he needs to work with vendors on a daily basis.

“Right now, I only have them one day,” he said. “But I need a whole month to really dive in to a business and find out what the one thing is that would provide exponential growth. It could be a distribution channel, or packaging, or marketing and advertising. But I can’t discover that with just a one-day window.”

Pictured at top: The two buildings that formerly housed Northeast Fabricators in downtown Youngstown, purchased by Youngstown Flea owner Derrick McDowell. The newer building, on the left, will be the new location of the market starting next year.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.