Juju holds vintage threads, magical vibes in Point Breeze
When she was 12 years old, Leslie McAllister fell in love with a 1930s crêpe de chine gown at an estate sale in Erie, Pennsylvania. In March 2016, she opened Juju — a vintage clothing and bohemian lifestyle boutique — in Pittsburgh. Her first piece of inventory? The very dress that launched her unrelenting passion for vintage everything.
“I’ve worn it, my sister’s worn it, we’ve all worn it,” McAllister says of the heirloom. “It was just a matter of…’OK, I think I’m ready to pass it on to the next person that wants to love it.'”
The gown is just one of dozens in the shop that once belonged to McAllister. Beyond scouting vintage wear from thrift stores and estate sales, the proprietor pulls from “a vast collection” of her own to stock Juju. “I used to dress really flamboyantly,” she says. “I was always known for what I was wearing. But … I’m just passing [the clothing] on. Shedding my skin into a new phase of life. I’d like to share that love.”
In a sense, McAllister attributes her initial curiosity in fashion to her grandmother: “I started watching runway stuff when I was 10 or 11 years old, because my grandmother would plant me in front of the TV while she was getting her makeup done. There was this runway show every Saturday morning on CNN called ‘Style with Elsa Klensch.’ That’s where it really started … I was so inspired.”
Designer labels were well out of her reach as a young girl, but McAllister was a sharp learner. She noticed stark similarities between the runway looks she idolized and the outfits her grandmother had been wearing for years. Fixated on the notion that clothing styles could transcend centuries, she started on her lifelong vintage expedition. “I always knew that I would have a business called Juju,” she says, simultaneously flashing a photo of her 12-year-old cat of the same name.
Two years after launching a successful Etsy shop from her home in Erie, she returned to Pittsburgh in 2014 for the first time since 2002. With intentions to soon open a brick-and-mortar store, she became a regular vendor at the Neighborhood Flea, the Pittsburgh Vintage Mixer, and as many pop-ups and markets as one human could conceivably attend.
“I just tried to do as many things as I could while I was here [in Pittsburgh], to make connections and meet some wonderful people,” she says. “They’ve become my colleagues and comrades and peers and supporters. [The city’s vintage community] really does feel like a family. Everybody supports one another. Like Kate [Colussy] from Highway Robbery, Seth [Hunter] from Toll Gate Revival … it’s cool to be able to see all of us grow and graduate to the next phase of our lives.”
In her own shop, McAllister highlights “boho-inspired, modern pieces that still translate to today,” whether they were made in the Victorian era or the 1980s.
But antique clothing is only a fraction of what fills the Point Breeze space. On a spiritual level, the aptly named shop is overflowing with good juju. Earthy and mystical, it’s the quintessential spot to score atypical gifts (think crystal-filled soaps, geometric jewelry, and gold-plated trinkets). It’s also a key destination for those seeking a more transcendental experience.
Consider the bundles of desert sage (above) McAllister keeps in stock, for example. They’re not decorations, but tools, intended for a sacral process called “smudging.”
“Smudging is a Native American tradition of cleansing negative and blocked energy,” she explains, taking a lighter to a handful of sage. “You just light the end, and it smokes like an incense might smoke. You can smudge people, you can smudge clothes, you can smudge your car, you can smudge new homes. It is just a really positive way of ‘spring cleaning’ a space and truly making it your own.”
I ask McAllister if she’s always been this spiritual. She laughs. “Very much so. I’ve taken a really, really interesting religious journey in my life in many different ways.”
It’s no wonder that Juju is a fascinating mixed bag of otherworldly goods — and services, too. That “Tarot” sign at the front of the store? It’s not a prop. Around the same time she founded her love of vintage wear, McAllister picked up her first deck of Tarot cards and hasn’t put them down since. Today, the self-taught “spiritual advisor” offers personal readings for those seeking guidance surrounding a specific query. If you’re expecting something of a crystal ball, however, you’re in the wrong place.
“[Tarot] just gives insight to a question or a fork in the road,” she says of the practice. “We sit down, you have a question, we figure out the best path for you. I think that there are all different kinds of Tarot readers … psychic and clairvoyant Tarot readers that can give you more of a peer into your future. I am not that. I’m not a psychic. I’m intuitive with the cards. I just sort of translate what I’m seeing, and I — hopefully — can bring solace or clarity to somebody that has a question.”
Performed on-site in the shop, Tarot readings have been in high demand since Juju’s opening. McAllister attributes their popularity to humans’ eternal quest for affirmation. We tend to think she has a gift, and one that expands beyond intuition. Why wouldn’t you accept guidance from a passionate entrepreneur who’s leveraged her multifaceted talents to run a business?
We’re just thrilled she’s decided to do it in Pittsburgh.
“I feel like my heart’s always been in Pittsburgh,” says McAllister. “I knew that I would be opening a shop here. Because it felt like … all I can say is, it felt like the right thing to do.
“And once I got down here, I was overwhelmed by the embracing communities, how easy it was to meet people and make friends, and how Pittsburgh supports — so much — its new businesses. It is like a thriving little community that is happening. It has that big-time feel, but you still have a small-town vibe.”
As Juju evolves, McAllister plans to give that love back to our community with an ambitious roster of happenings: trunk shows, “spiritual workshops for women,” and more partnered events with her art studio neighbor, Hatch.
“This is the vessel. Now, I just want to branch out from here,” she says.
So far, so good.