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About seven years ago, Yvonne Hou learned the previous bookstore in the same spot was about to close. Rather than let that happen, she decided to take it over and make it her own. But what to call her new business? She posed this question to one of her (many) cats, who replied, “Mi-o!” And so it was settled. Hou named the shop Maomi, the Mandarin equivalent of kitty. With an origin story like that, of course this place would draw me in.
I have been waiting at St. Cecilia for over an hour. It’s pouring outside, but that’s not the reason for Stanford Lightfoot’s tardiness—he forgot about our interview. But, hey, when you’re one of the busiest concert host–comedian–do-it-all entertainers in the city, it’s easy to get off schedule.
The first time that I was lured to the Flora-Bama Lounge, I had been casting for speckled trout on a guided fishing trip off the coast of Orange Beach, Alabama. This was a fall evening in the ’90s. Gulls spread rumors overhead. The sun was going to orange. From a distant point came music, pounding yet lighthearted, like a cross between Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Buffett. It sounded like dirty dancing. It sounded like a good time.
Tickets often have to be secured months before. I’ve likened performances to family reunions. I don’t know everyone’s names, but there is surely a connection: the love of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. From a dancer’s outstretched body, a tip of a hat, and the twirl of an umbrella, to how fabrics flow with every bend and bow, each act is its own happening and affirmation—as if to say, Everything’s going to be all right.
With its recognizable logo in St. Patrick’s Day font, those simple but wonderful green awnings, and that chatty, sweet staff, Green’s operates stores across South Carolina and has two in Atlanta. But the original, and my favorite, dates back to 1937 on Ponce de Leon Avenue.
Seconds off Jimmy Carter Boulevard in Norcross, a small shopping complex is filled with the usual strip mall staples: Kroger, Pizza Hut, GNC, a hair salon. But unless you were part of the Pakistani and Kashmiri immigrant scene, you would never know, or guess, that sandwiched between the GNC and the hair salon is J. Junaid Jamshed (or just J.), a Pakistani fashion retail store stocked with light, soft, warm weather–friendly clothes that are almost impossible to find elsewhere without paying a hefty price.
As a kid, I was comfortable not just with a diversity of flavors but a diversity of people. As a journalist, I’ve spent a lot of time traveling and reporting stories around the world—but I owe my appreciation of diverse cultures to my own hometown of Lilburn.
No other place came as close to satisfying my simultaneous yearnings for discovery and acceptance as this weirdly tropical and uncharacteristically health-focused restaurant. When I found R. Thomas, it didn’t fit in, and I therefore believed in my teenage heart that it was just like me.