Nestled on the bank of the Delaware River, in the heart of Bucks County in the state of Pennsylvania, is the town of New Hope.
New Hope has long been identified as an “artist’s community” – a haven for the counter culture with local artist’s galleries and shops proudly displaying t-shirts emblazoned with Grateful Dead logos set next to bars with dozens of motorcycles parked in front. The Bucks County Playhouse has been in operation more or less consistently from 1939. During the summer months, New Hope’s narrow streets are flooded by tourists and locals alike, all drawn to the place known as the “fun, weird town” in Bucks County.
Truth be told, there’s less and less of that funky, “weird” New Hope nowadays. Of course, there’s a Starbucks. Right across the street is the Dunkin’ Donuts. Up the road, there’s a Staples and a McDonald’s. So the weird old hippie arts commune isn’t so weird anymore.
But there’s still pockets where you can find that vibe. None more notable and prominent perhaps, than Love Saves The Day. It’s right on the corner as you come off the bridge that connects New Hope to New Jersey, with big front windows featuring eye-catching (and occasionally, eye-popping) displays of some of the treasures located within.
Love Saves The Day was one of the first stores to recognize the value of ephemera and “kitsch” to the Baby Boomers. Started in New York’s East Village in 1966 by Leslie Herson, it sold bric-a-brac and old toys, vintage clothes and weird costumes; anything offbeat and unusual was fair game. The store became an iconic hot spot, appearing in 1985’s classic ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’. (Madonna attempts to shoplift a particularly snazzy pair of boots.) In the early 90s, Leslie opened the New Hope store and it’s been a staple of the community ever since.
Sadly, Leslie passed on in 2008 and the New York store closed shortly afterwards. But Love Saves The Day New Hope is still going strong. Walking through the door you are immediately overwhelmed by a high-ceilinged, wide open space. Well, it would be wide open, except that every available inch of space is occupied by… something. There’s the rack of vintage clothes of any and all eras. There’s the case stuffed full with figurines of Jack and Sally out of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, Batman, Star Wars and Pee-Wee Herman. In fact, there’s a distinct ‘Pee-Wee’s Playhouse’ vibe in evidence as you look around at the riot of cards, clothes, toys, LP records, rubber animals and so on. And you start to realize that it’s not really a “riot” at all. It’s a rather well organized riot.
It begs the question, how DO you even begin to manage/organize a store like this?
“As long as its all about love and laughter and NOT racism or hate …. we generally accept anything” co-owner/manager Stasia tells us, graciously taking time from her busy day to walk us through the store. “I have refused some old advertisements from the 40s & 50s because of the sexism and racism presented in the advertisement.” Stasia and her assistant manager Jill are the latest curators/ephemera hunters to shepherd Love Saves The Day into the future. Stasia herself was a patron of both the New York and the New Hope store.
“I’ve been a fan of Love Saves The Day since I was a child. My family and I used to visit New Hope regularly and that’s when I fell in love with LSD and Leslie and Cleo. Cleo was the manager at the New Hope store for many, many years. She’s part of the reason I have my job here today.”
Studying painting and printmaking at School of Visual Arts in New York, and then completing her education at PAFA in Philadelphia gave Stasia access to both locations. “I went to SVA right after high school graduation so I was never without LSD” she says, using the knowingly cheeky abbreviation most regular customers refer to the store by. “While going to school at SVA I was one of the little punk rock girls that would hang out at the NYC LSD. I like to say Love Saves The Day has literally been with me for the majority of my life. Both NYC and Philly.”
Interestingly, there could have been a LSD Hawaii. “We say we were established in NYC in 1966,” Stasia confirms. “But most people don’t know that Leslie attempted to start a LSD before that in Hawaii. It failed miserably, but it never deterred her from creating her vision of Love Saves The Day”
As mentioned before, the New York store was immortalized on screen in ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’. We had to wonder if they’ve ever had people attempt to mimic Madonna’s brazen attempt to literally walk out with the shoes on her feet. “Yes” Stasia nods. “It actually happens regularly. Sometimes it’s an accident, sometimes it’s on purpose…”
And sometimes, maybe, it’s down to pure excitement. “I will say” Stasia notes, “that to this day, Madonna fans still stop by to touch the case she touched in the movie, or to kiss the items she touched. We’ve even had a fan pass out from excitement in the store.”
The staff have plenty to keep themselves excited as well. When we asked what the most interesting or unusual item they’d seen come through LSD was, Stasia noted: “Unfortunately there isn’t just ONE item. There are a few items that have taken my breath away. Like the original Templar Knights Ceremonial dress items – they are fantastic and extremely unique. We have had some rare couture items from early on such as CoCo Chanel vintage… I could go on. Our favorite item in the store right now is the Old Circus Cupie Case.” She pauses. “And I do still dream about a 1930s fox fur wrap that we sold to a movie production company a few years back…”
Most of the store’s stock comes by way of estate sales and auctions. “We are also blessed to have some collectors who are devoted to selling just for LSD” Stasia adds. “Our long term relationship with these experts really helps us find the goods that you just can’t find at the average yard sale.”
As much product as they move through the store, (“We put out merchandise every single day” Stasia confirms) there are some items that have ended up claiming a permanent spot in the LSD inventory. “We have a giant, over-sized Pee Wee and Chairy in the shop” Stasia says. “People always mention that.We’ve had it on display since the 80s. It’s become such a staple that we will never sell it. We have some Elizabethan and Victorian era dresses that we keep in the shop that are not for sale, just to show people what we wore back then.” Looking around, the self-described Elvis fan also states, “We also have a couple of Elvis numbered Gold Record displays that we will NOT sell…”
Tradition is a factor in this most untraditional of businesses. We asked Stasia how she kept the original vision, Leslie’s vision, of Love Saves The Day alive after so many years.
“I always try to think of how unique Leslie’s way of looking at the world was. I’ll never be able to fill her shoes, but I always have her in mind with anything and everything I do for the store. I work closely with her husband” (Leslie Herson was survived by her husband Richard) “and we talk every day as if she’s still with us. I think it keeps her spirit alive inside the shop.”
Looking around, it’s easy to see what she means. There’s a timelessness to Love Saves The Day that goes deeper than the simple fact of the wildly varying eras represented by the products on sale. “You know,” Stasia says “this building wasn’t planned to be Love Saves The Day. Leslie saw it and fell in love. Like, LOVE AFFAIR. She asked about purchasing the building and they told her it wasn’t for sale. So, she’d stop by and visit the building regularly. She’d talk to it. She would hug the corner and the railings. And she never stopped asking about buying it. She just was not going to take “no” for an answer. And, you know, her determination and kind love for the actual building paid off. Now we’ve been in this location for decades.”
To which we can only add, may Love Saves The Day continue to keep the love alive in this location for many more decades.
Love Saves the Day: Picture Gallery
From the inside to the outside, window displays galore. A feast for the eyes, is what’s in store.
This was a ModCon and Wiizzy Wiig collabrative effort.