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LARSON: Thirty years bring big changes to Gwinnett

After my last column on all the entertainment in Gwinnett County, my friend Susan Abken pointed out to me that when I moved here 30 years ago the only thing Gwinnett had to offer was the Yellow River Game Ranch.

She was right in every respect. Not only was there virtually no entertainment here, but there wasn't even any shopping. I'm not just saying no Gwinnett Place or no Avenue. I don't even mean no ALDI or ASSI Plaza or Trader Joe's.

No, I what I mean is that I had to drive to DeKalb County just to shop at a Kroger. When a Kroger opened in Snellville in 1983 it was like Disney World for housewives. No matter when I shopped there, I ran into several women I knew just taking in the excitement of it all.

The same was true with restaurants. When my husband worked for Scientific Atlanta in the '70s, he said the only place in the county where they could take customers to lunch was Little Gardens in Lawrenceville. It was almost to the point of being a drag.

Then when my friend and real estate agent Pat Bevis took me out house hunting in 1980, she treated me to my first restaurant meal in Gwinnett at, of course, Little Gardens. Where else? She told me the story about how a mutual acquaintance had grown up there and filled me in on some of the personal history. When I told my husband about this wonderfully unique restaurant I'd discovered near our new house and how I couldn't wait for us to have romantic dinner there, he somehow didn't seem all that enthused.

Today Little Gardens only caters events, and I must admit I miss its being a restaurant. In a quirky sort of way, it holds some sentiment for us.

Thirty years ago, if you wanted to experience ethnic diversity in Gwinnett County, you had to watch TV. Not only was there no ethnic diversity, but there was hardly any religious diversity either. The only Catholic Church in the county was St. Patrick's in Norcross. Lutherans had just started to make their presence known. Trinity Lutheran in Lilburn was only six years old and the newly formed Sole Fide Lutheran in Lawrenceville consisted of about 25 people worshipping in a daycare center.

Jewish people were still holding services in private homes. Their first synagogue, Temple Beth David in Snellville, wasn't built until 1987. Words like mosque and Mandir weren't even part of anyone's vocabulary.

Today, Gwinnett County is home to more than 800 faith-based groups representing just about every religion and nationality on earth. Diverse in their practices and beliefs, they are also diverse in the way they reach out and minister to the community. And I happened to notice that a lot of what they have to offer, whether it be a concert, festival or fish fry, provides plenty of wholesome entertainment right here in the county.

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.