8News: Central Virginia small businesses pick up the pieces after the ‘disastrous’ financial effects of COVID-19

8NEWS, SABRINA SHUTTERS

Small businesses across Central Virginia are still recovering from the harsh financial toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken, and there’s still a ways to go.

United States Representative Abigail Spanberger, who represents Virginia’s 7th district, toured one Goochland distillery Monday to learn more about how local businesses are recovering. She said businesses across the 7th district are the drivers of Virginia’s economy.

Hill Top Distillery in Goochland opened at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and closed down for at least a week when they couldn’t do tastings or serve cocktails.

Now, they’re using help from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund to be able to stay open through the rest of this year, getting them into their second year.

“It was scary,” said Sherry Brockenbrough, co-owner of Hill Top Distillery. Brockenbrough owns and runs the distillery with her husband and son.

Virginia Distillers Association secretary and treasurer Barry Haneberg knows the effects of the pandemic firsthand as well, as a distiller himself at Virago Spirits in Richmond.

“It was disastrous for us, especially in the early months,” he said.

Hill Top Distillery closed for a least a week because they couldn’t do tastings or serve cocktails.

“When we opened our doors March 5, we really had no idea any of this was coming,” Brockenbrough said.

With the state reopening, Rep. Spanberger said Monday that Virginia is starting to see some bright signs of recovery.

Brockenbrough said a big reason she could keep her doors open is because people in Goochland and Powhatan were choosing to buy their liquor instead of going to an ABC store.

“Our community, Goochland County and Powhatan, these folks rallied for us,” she said.

Rep. Spanberger was a co-sponsor of and voted to pass the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, signed into law December 2020, which made the federal excise tax cut on distilled spirits permanent.

Haneberg said Rep. Spanberger’s help in making permanent the federal excise tax cut on distilled spirits was a huge help, but the recovery continues.

“Business is back, people are buying spirits, people are supporting them, but there’s a large overhang. You have a year of loans you’ve taken out, personal loans you’ve taken out to support your businesses and you still need to kind of address those,” said Haneberg.

Brockenbrough said things are looking up and that this weekend alone, they served eight couples who had never been to Hill Top Distillery.

As for restaurant workers whose wages are still just over $2 an hour plus tips, Rep. Spanberger told 8News she’s still a proponent of increasing the minimum wage.

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