From boho and vintage apparel to tarot, Juju explores the metaphysical
August 11, 2016
When she was 12 years old, Leslie McAllister fell in love with a 1930s crepe de Chine gown at an estate sale in Erie, Pennsylvania. In March 2016, she opened Juju — half bohemian-vintage outfitter, half “modern metaphysical store” — 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, whisking the heirloom from a nearby display. It’s one of dozens in the shop that she’s parted with: Beyond scouting vintage wear from thrift stores and estate sales, the proprietor often pulls from her own boho-style collection to stock Juju. “I used to dress really flamboyantly,” she says. “But I’m passing [the clothing] on. Shedding my skin into a new phase of life.”
In a sense, she attributes her introduction to fashion — runway fashion, specifically — to her grandmother: “She 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.”
Fascinated by the similarities between designer apparel and the outfits her grandmother had donned for decades, McAllister learned quickly of fashion’s ability to transcend time. As an adult, she’d move to Pittsburgh, then to San Francisco, and finally back to Northern Pennsylvania before pursuing a clothing store of her own. “I always knew that I would have a business called Juju,” she says, flashing a photo of her 12-year-old cat by the same name.
In 2014, two years after launching a successful Etsy shop from her home in Erie, the entrepreneur returned to Pittsburgh with intentions to open a brick-and-mortar store. She became a regular vendor at the Neighborhood Flea, the Pittsburgh Vintage Mixer, and every pop-up market she could conceivably attend. “I just tried to make connections and meet some wonderful people,” she says of Pittsburgh’s family-like vintage community. “They’ve become my colleagues and comrades and peers and supporters.”
Today, Juju’s founder offers “boho-inspired pieces that still translate to today,” whether they were made in the Victorian era or the 1980s. Interestingly, antique clothing fills only a fraction of the Point Breeze space.
On a spiritual level, McAllister’s aptly named shop is overflowing with good vibes. Earthy and mystical, it’s the quintessential locale for atypical gifting (think crystal-filled soaps, geometric jewelry, and gold-plated trinkets). It’s also an appropriate destination for those seeking a more transcendental experience.
The bundles of desert sage that she keeps in stock, for example, are not purely decorative. They’re tools intended for “smudging,” a Native American tradition believed to cleanse “negative and blocked energy” from a physical space. “It smokes like an incense might smoke,” she explains, lighting a handful of sage. “You can smudge people, you can smudge clothes, you can smudge your car, you can smudge new homes. [Smudging] is just a really positive way of spring cleaning.”
I ask whether she’s always been a spiritual person. “Very much so,” she laughs. “I’ve taken a really, really interesting religious journey in my life, in many different ways.”
As a result, Juju is a fascinating potpourri of otherworldly goods — and services, if you’re open to them. The short story: Years ago, McAllister inherited a deck of tarot cards from her late grandmother, an astrologist. She hasn’t put them down since. Today, the self-proclaimed “spiritual adviser” offers personal readings for those seeking spiritual guidance on a certain query. If you’re expecting something of a crystal ball, however, you’re in the wrong place.
“[Tarot] just gives insight to a fork in the road,” she says. “We sit down, you have a question, we figure out the best path for you. There are all different kinds of tarot readers … psychic and clairvoyant 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.”
Practiced in a secluded space inside Juju, tarot card readings have been in high demand since the store’s debut. McAllister attributes their popularity to “humans’ eternal quest for affirmation.” I believe she has a gift; maybe even one that exceeds intuition. Spirituality aside, couldn’t we all benefit from the guidance of a passionate entrepreneur who’s leveraged multifaceted talents to run a business?
My visit to Juju did not include tarot cards, or explicit advice of any kind. Instead, the sum of McAllister’s personal accounts yielded an obvious, albeit unintended, takeaway: Follow your heart.
“All I can say is, it felt like the right thing to do,” she says of launching a business in Pittsburgh. “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.”
As Juju evolves, McAllister plans to host on-site trunk shows, “spiritual workshops for women,” and more partnered events with her art studio neighbor, Hatch.