Sales pitch summer? Dems aim to showcase virus relief effort

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In this Monday, June 7, 2021, photo Rep Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., left, talks with distiller Sherry Brockenbrough, during a tour of the Hilltop distillery in Maidens, Va. Spanberger held a roundtable discussion with distillers to discuss COVID-19 reopening challenges experienced by small businesses & regulatory issues facing central Virginia distilleries. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

MAIDENS, Va. – When Sherry Brockenbrough and her family opened a distillery on a leafy vista overlooking the James River on March 5, 2020, the coronavirus still seemed like a distant threat.

But in the coming weeks, Hill Top Distillery faced the kind of barriers few businesses could survive and almost none had prepared for. By the thousands, restaurants, breweries and distilleries across the country would largely shutter.

Brockenbrough moved to swiftly adapt, replacing tasting room gatherings with curbside pickup and outdoor, distanced activities. Still, she was not close to meeting her financial goals and the distillery hasn't turned a profit, leaving the 63-year-old Brockenbrough and her husband, John, to pump even more of their savings into the business to keep it going.

“It’s a really scary place to be with no money coming in,” she said.

Her business was sustained in part by money that came from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, the pandemic relief legislation that Congress passed in March solely with Democratic votes. She is using the funds to buy new equipment and make improvements to the property, investments she hopes will lure customers interested in her vodka, whiskey and moonshine.

“We are grateful,” Brockenbrough said. The funds “take the edge off. You're not hitting the panic button going ‘okay now what?’”

This summer, Democrats are also hoping they get a return on the investment in businesses like Brockenbrough's. With Democrats facing formidable prospects in the battle to retain both chambers of Congress, the virus rescue package may be the party's best opportunity to argue their work in Washington had a positive, tangible effect on communities across the country during a time of historic crisis.

The sense of urgency is growing as other ambitious pillars of the Democratic agenda, ranging from the protection of voting rights to a far-reaching infrastructure package and reforms of policing, gun rights and immigration, are at risk in an evenly divided Senate. That raises the prospect that the rescue package may emerge as the most significant piece of legislation for Democrats to campaign on next year.