From bohemian vintage to Tarot, Juju explores the metaphysical
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 — one-half vintage and bohemian clothing outfitter; one-half “modern, metaphysical store” — in Pittsburgh. The first item listed for sale? 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’s just one of dozens in the shop that once belonged to her: 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.”
In a sense, she 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 show every Saturday morning on CNN called ‘Style with Elsa Klensch.’ That’s where it really started.”
Inspired by the similarities between modern runway looks and the outfits her grandmother had been wearing for decades, McAllister learned quickly that fashion transcends centuries. “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.
She’d move to Pittsburgh, then to San Francisco, and finally back to Northern Pa. before her expedition truly started to unfold. In 2014, two years after launching a successful Etsy shop from her home in Erie, McAllister 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 and market she could conceivably attend.
“I just tried to make connections and meet some wonderful people, and they’ve become my colleagues and comrades and peers and supporters. [Pittsburgh’s vintage community] really does feel like a family,” she says.
Today, Juju’s founder aims to highlight “boho-inspired, modern pieces that still translate to today,” whether they were made in the Victorian era or the ’80s.
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 vibes. Earthy and mystical, it’s a quintessential spot for atypical gifting (think crystal-filled soaps, geometric jewelry, gold-plated trinkets). It’s also a key destination for those seeking a more transcendental experience.
The bundles of desert sage McAllister keeps in stock, for example, are not decorative: They’re 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 if she’s always been a spiritual person. She laughs. “Very much so. I’ve taken a really, really interesting religious journey in my life in many different ways.”
Subsequently, Juju is a fascinating potpourri of otherworldly goods — and even services, if you’re open to them. That “Tarot” sign at the front of the store? It’s not a prop. Around the time she started to explore fashion, McAllister picked up her first deck of Tarot cards…and hasn’t put them down since. Today, the self-proclaimed “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 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 in-store, Tarot readings have been in high demand since Juju’s debut. 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,” she says. “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 host on-site 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.