Tonight thousands of Lilburnites will gather at Lilburn City Park for the Independence Day celebration known as “Sparkle in the Park.”
Or, as I like to nonsensically call it, “Sparkle in the Parkle.”
July Fourth is a time when our Atlanta suburb sparkles with more than just fireworks, and it’s the clearest demonstration that Lilburn is making strides in its effort to offer some of the same amenities that neighboring communities like Duluth, Norcross, Lawrenceville, Roswell and Suwanee have been rolling out in recent years.
People throw around nicknames ironically these days, and my own little corner of the world is no exception. We locals like to call our sleepy Atlanta bedroom community, “Thrillburn” to mock its unhurried attitude and tranquil spirit. The seven square miles that make up this little hamlet claims a population of 12,481, but the “greater Lilburn metropolitan area” is much larger.
It’s a tight-knit, primarily residential community with good schools, diverse religious environment and hotbed for youth sports and organizations like Scouts. The knock on Lilburn has been that it’s a great place to live, but there’s not a lot to do.
Truth is, Lilburn has become an overlooked and underappreciated destination that is working hard to make something of itself for the benefit of guests and residents alike. Located in the shadow of Stone Mountain, there is a growing commitment to improving the quality of life here.
In the “Before Time,” probably 2018 or 2019, our civically minded middle child, Harris, insisted on going to a Lilburn City Council meeting. He and my wife landed on a meeting night that featured a town hall with then Mayor Johnny Crist presenting plans for future development of the downtown area. They both came home breathless with the possibilities of the restaurants and improvements to the park that were intended to make what was being branded as “Old Town Lilburn” more appealing.
The plans have proceeded with the relocation of the city offices and police station to new facilities, freeing up space for the enlarged park bandstand, pavilion and splash pad. Interesting townhomes with character have gone up near the park, and an entire community designed for retirees is under construction nearby.
Dining and entertainment options are still modest, but there’s obvious progress. Our oldest son worked a summer as a dishwasher at 1910 Public House, named for the year Lilburn was founded as an agrarian town on the railroad line, and his friends frequently play gigs at Music on Main next door.
Our family frequents Agavero Cantina Parkside, a Mexican cafe with outdoor seating attached to a rehabbed double decker bus. Thematically, it’s confusing, but if you’re downing an order of street tacos with a side of esquite on a cool spring evening, the luchadores painted on the side of the vintage British bus only enhance your experience.
The obvious changes started a few years ago when a community garden opened just across the tracks from the park, and the city completed work on a greenway trail. I trained for my last marathon 10 years ago on that trail, and it’s been improved over the years, despite the damage it suffered from a recent train accident.
About that time, Lilburn started offering free concerts in the park and bringing in food trucks for special events and “Food Truck Tuesdays” at the park. We saw tribute bands play the music of the Beatles, Jimmy Buffett, Fleetwood Mac, and the Avett Brothers in addition to the real Drivin’ and Cryin’ and local favorite, the Glow Band. Even more than the music, I enjoyed being with neighbors and friends from our diverse community.
In the New South, many small towns and other municipalities outside of the urban centers are putting resources into lifestyle amenities that blend the old with the new. When Barron takes his grandfather’s 1950 Chevy Styleline Deluxe out for a spin, he loves to cruise up and down Main Street. He likes driving an old car in an old section of town. Something old, something new.
Further proof that the townsfolks are embracing Lilburn’s new identity are the seemingly ubiquitous “Lilburn is Hip” T-shirts. You can pick one up at Citizen’s Exchange on Main Street.
Lilburn may be behind our neighboring suburban communities striving to create a sense of community, but it is catching up. I’m glad to see it and would welcome a few more eateries and a coffee shop, bakery or ice cream parlor among the establishments on Main Street.
If you have some time and are looking for something cool and quaint, you could do a lot worse than moseying over to Thrillburn. I promise it’ll add some sparkle to your parkle.