It's hard not to be inspired by the artists and makers of the Cleveland Flea. Brilliant, talented, creative. They're tough as bleepin' nails on their ways to making their dreams come true. We're reviving The Maker Series, a partnership between The Cleveland Flea/Indie Foundry and Suzuran Photography, to take a look — behind the scenes, beyond the booth — to see what drives our makers to do what they love and love what they do. All photography by Suzuran Photography.
Q + A with Yellow Door Goods
Yellow Door Goods is the general store for a new generation. Vintage purveyors Diane and Jason Roberts think collecting and design are organic processes and help customers plant the seeds to grow their personal style.
SW: When and how did you start thrifting or salvaging?
YDG (Diane): My dad was always garbage picking items when I was a kid and my grandma ran a thrift store so that influenced me. We always visited antique stores, garage sales, and church sales when I was a kid. I loved finding old costumes or costume pieces. I was an actor and did theater my whole life, so I was always collecting items for future shows.
YDG (Jason): I was really born into it. My parents were into collecting and dealing sports memorabilia, glassware, pottery, antiques, etc. Also, starting in elementary school I would spend weekends and school breaks with a family friend where I worked in his warehouse and traveled all over. It was there, while working for him, that learned more about sports and military items as well as coins and precious metals.
SW: What are your jobs outside Yellow Door Goods?
YDG (Diane): I work full-time as a medical sales recruiter. I find sales reps for all the major medical equipment/device companies in the country. I also teach Zumba three times a week.
YDG (Jason): I recently started a safety inspection business that helps other businesses meet required building and safety codes.
SW: Why did you decide to start your own business?
YDG: It spontaneously happened. A lot of the items we sold at our second Flea were from decorating for our wedding. The items had been really popular with our guests. We were also looking to get rid of replaced furniture because we were newly married. And since we both love antiques and vintage items, and have similar design styles, it seemed like a logical step. Plus, we enjoy spending time with each other.
SW: What are your goals and dreams for Yellow Door Goods this year?
YDG: We are taking things as they come. We have started to develop a separate wing to YDG, in which we are personal shoppers, and rework and design individual pieces.
SW: What were you like as kids and/or teenagers?
YDG (Diane): Always crafting and creating things. A musical theater geek. I don’t believe that is relevant, except that you may see me singing and dancing in our booth.
YDG (Jason): Besides my upbringing in collectables, I was very fortune to explore, develop and experiment on my own, as long as I wasn’t causing too much trouble.
SW: Looking back, what points to your small business owner/professional thrifter status?
YDG (Diane): Well, I did have a highly successful door-to-door rock-painting company, which I started when I was six. But I try not to brag.
YDG (Jason): I look back on that time growing up and realize that it definitely influenced the way I see items now and how I don’t particularly follow any set of rules on how things should be styled. I really just absorbed as much as possible. Since it was fun then, we make sure that we keep it as much fun for us and everyone else now too.
SW: What’s the first significant sale you remember?
YDG: The first significant item that really stood out for us (literally) was a modern, porcelain enameled, cherry red Preway fireplace. It was bright, large, and you definitely couldn’t miss our booth when you entered the Flea.
SW: Whom do you look to for inspiration as creatives?
YDG: We can’t single out any specific individuals. We pick up bits and pieces and combine them with our own likes and tastes. At The Cleveland Flea, we do admire vendors who can handcraft their own items and put love and sweat into their pieces. Being surrounded by people like that is inspiring and always brings a smile to our faces.
SW: How has the Cleveland Flea helped your business?
YDG: Although technically YDG is a business, we look at it more as a lifestyle. The Flea has given us the venue and opportunity to express what we do and love. It helped get our name out there. To see all the items displayed together in a particular way helps people visualize how it would look in their houses. When you just see one item online, it’s not as appealing. We also don’t have a retail store, so people know to come and see us at the Flea.
But the Flea has been much more than a business opportunity for us. It's a social setting, one where people from all walks of life attend, where we have the opportunity to interact with them. It’s really a beautiful thing and something that means more to us than most people realize.
SW: Have you learned anything about your business by participating in the Cleveland Flea?
YDG (Diane): I have learned that Jason and I are a good team. Jason is very methodical and he knows so much history about the items; it’s fascinating to hear him talk to customers. I have learned that I can’t do it alone. We are too big and have too much stuff that it would be impossible to do this alone. Plus, it is so much more fun to be with him, laugh and enjoy the day together.
YDG (Jason): What she said.
SW: What is the one thing that you will always pay full price for?
YDG (Diane): Hair stylist—I’ve learned my lesson. I have a bad haircut still lingering in my psyche that I can’t shake.
YDG (Jason): Coffee and chocolate.
SW: What’s your biggest struggle from a business standpoint?
YDG: Time, time and more time. Finding enough time to do everything you want to get done, while having multiple jobs and taking care of 2 bunnies. We just take things as they come. We try not to struggle or stress ourselves out too much.
SW: Where can we find you?
YDG: During the day, we both work 9-5 jobs. At night, Diane teaches Zumba. We watch Netflix, read, list our items on Etsy and play with our bunnies, Wild Bill and Rose Lane. (They'd be upset with us if we didn't give a shout-out.) On the weekends, we're drinking coffee, reading, taking road trips, and visiting family and friends.
SW: What's your favorite piece of advice as it relates to art and/or business?
YDG (Diane): Have a clear theme or design in mind. Stay consistent and always do your research.
YDG (Jason): Never put yourself in a position where you have to play catch-up to what others are doing. Do your own thing as much as possible, but not so much that you don’t work with others. It’s one of the ways that you gain knowledge and experience.
SW: What’s your favorite part of the process—the hunt, the upcycle/refurbish/repurpose, or sharing the finished product?
YDG: Without a doubt, it’s sharing the finished product. When a Cleveland Flea guest buys one of our items, it is a validation of a job well done for us, and there is also a connection that is made with them in the fact that we share at least one thing in common. Items are more than just “things” The items that we surround ourselves with are actually extensions of ourselves and can even begin to tell a story of who we are. Items in our daily lives also have the power to shape our emotions, thought process, how we conduct ourselves, and even our outlook on life. It’s really pretty cool if you think about it.
All photos are courtesy of Suzuran Photography.