On paper, City Flea sounded like an unlikely venture.

A flea market in a downtown parking lot? On a Saturday afternoon? Surely this was a recipe for disaster.

But Lindsay and Nick Dewald weren’t envisioning one of those massive gatherings featuring chipped dinnerware, bargain baskets and old stuff you found in grandma’s basement.

No, City Flea is a flea market for the rest of us. It is for the people who sought out those wonderfully curious little shops in Northside or on Main Street. It is for the people who, despite their parents’ protestations, are moving into condos and apartments in Over-the-Rhine. It is for the people who gravitated toward the beginning-to-boom activity along Vine Street north of Central Parkway.

In early 2011, there was already a palpable sense of change in Over-the-Rhine. It seemed that decades of revitalization talk was finally starting to happen.

The Dewalds, in their mid-20s at the time, hadn’t analyzed the change. But the couple, West Siders who had moved back to Cincinnati from Brooklyn the previous year, clearly felt changes were taking place.

“There were so many amazing things going on,” says Lindsay Dewald. “There were so many people who seemed to have a vision and a passion for the city.”

What’s more, they were people like them; creative, ambitious, entrepreneurial and eager to be near the center of the city rather than flee it the way their parents’ generation had.

Inspired by Brooklyn Flea, an enterprise they admired back in New York, the Dewalds started cobbling together a similar venture here. They created an urban marketplace—a flea market, if you will—where their creativity and entrepreneurialism could both be fed.

They pitched the idea to friends, to the owners of stores they admired, to just about anyone whose work they felt strongly about. There were people who made tiles, fabric, art and clothes. There would be food, post cards, jewelry, sculptures and ceramic work.

Unlike what you might find in your run-of-the-mill neighborhood art show, the work these vendors were making was edgy, sassy and extraordinarily stylish.

On June 4, 2011, they held the first City Flea in the cramped parking lot at the corner of Vine and Central Parkway—right under Richard Haas’ wonderful trompe de l’oeil “Cincinnatus” mural. There were 40 vendors. And by the time they officially opened at 10 a.m., there were oodles of people waiting to buy.

“It was pretty amazing,” recalls Tom Acito, owner of the Café de Wheels food truck, who was part of that first Flea. “It was kind of ragtag, but it was pretty awesome underneath that mural. The amount of people who showed up—we really didn’t have any idea if it was going to be a success.”

Acito and his truck have attended every Flea since. So have many of those other original participants, even as the total number of vendors has reached more than 100.

The parking lot was no longer large enough for the monthly Fleas. So they moved to another parking lot at 12th Street and Vine and then finally to its current home in Washington Park.

And the crowds?

“Honestly, we couldn’t tell you if it’s 1,000 people or 5,000 now,” says Dewald. “In fact, that’s one of our goals this year, to try to get an accurate count of how many people are there.”

What they do know is that people keep coming, which results in vendors who keep coming too.

“This started out as a hobby for me,” says Christy White, owner of Whirlybird Granola. Indeed, it was with Nick Dewald’s encouragement that she turned that hobby into a business for the first Flea. “We’re making 1500 bags every three or four weeks now, but I still love doing it.”

City Flea has actually been like a business incubator for Whirlybird. Through contacts she made there, White has been able to place her granola in Whole Foods Markets and at Park + Vine.

On top of it all, the Dewalds are even managing to make a little money, though they’re not about to abandon their day jobs. She’s a part-time Montessori teacher and he’s an architect and photographer.

In the midst of all this growth, City Flea has managed to remain an easy-going event; a good-natured gathering, busy and crowded, but still comfortable. More importantly, it’s an event that is comfy in its own skin.

There’s no mad rush to get larger.

They’ve grown from six to eight monthly events and they’re experimenting with some variations on the theme. In November, for instance, City Flea will take place inside downtown’s 21C Museum Hotel.

But don’t look for City Flea to morph into a high-end spectacle or turn into a weekly event at multiple sites.

What the Dewalds most want to avoid is sameness. City Flea is appealing because it is filled with products that you don’t see on every store shelf.

“Nick and I spend a lot of time sifting through applications, figuring out who’s the right fit to be one of our vendors. We want everything that’s here to be quality. To be really good and local. At one of those giant flea markets, you have to go on a treasure hunt to find what you want. Here, Nick and I are doing the treasure hunting for the shoppers.”

Acito says that the Dewalds’ commitment to quality and character is what has kept him coming back.

“I think City Flea is absolutely the best event that we go to. The people who go there are looking for what is interesting and creative in Cincinnati. The Flea, to me, isn’t just a flea market. It’s something that is important.”

For more information about City Flea, go to thecityflea.com.