When Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe visited Charlottesville last Wednesday, he meandered up and down the Downtown Mall with Delegate David Toscano, discussing the economy and promising to prioritize small businesses if elected.
McAuliffe said he’s running on a platform of job creation and economic development, and wants to appeal to the entire political spectrum by running a mainstream campaign and focusing on economic growth rather than the “social ideological agenda that divides people” that he accused competitor Ken Cuccinelli of pushing.
“The best way you can do it is by listening to folks, like here in the bookstore, who have to sell to folks every single day,” he said during an interview in New Dominion Bookshop, one of several stops he made along the Mall. “They have the pulse of what’s going on.”
After the hand-shaking was over and the candidate had moved on, area business owners talked about what they want to see from both state and local government officials.
Carol Troxell, who owns New Dominion Bookshop, said she wants the government to help level the playing field for small business owners, and hopes new online sales taxes will contribute.
“I think that would be a really good start,” she told McAuliffe.
In Belmont, Tavola owner Michael Keaveny said there needs to be more collaboration between government officials and business owners, but political promises to improve the economy and support small local businesses don’t mean much to him.
“I’m tired of hearing about politicians championing small businesses,” he said. “The government might give them loans, but that just helps them open. They do nothing to help sustain businesses.”
Zocalo owner Ivan Rekosh was impartial to McAuliffe’s visit, and more concerned about what local government is doing to help small businesses, especially in regard to safety on the Downtown Mall. Loitering, panhandling, and fighting have been recurring problems outside his restaurant during the warmer months, and he said he welcomes the use of tax dollars to fund the Downtown Ambassadors, a pilot program intended to address loitering and assist tourists.
“The perception of the Mall as a safe place is what’s most important to me,” Rekosh said.
Business has been slower over the last couple of years, he said, and he hopes City Council’s attention to Downtown safety will boost sales.
A block down the Mall, Chaps Ice Cream owner Tony LaBua agreed that business is slower than he’d like, and said he has to employ a “skeletal staff” to cut labor costs. With loyal customers still coming in for grilled cheese sandwiches and milkshakes, the 28-
year-old Downtown diner has stayed afloat, but LaBua is unimpressed by politicians’ attempts to fix the economy. He thinks businesses would be in better shape if elected officials focused their efforts elsewhere.
“We would all be better off if the government gets out of the way and lets business work,” LaBua said.