Less than a week before the primary, gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, Del. Alfonso Lopez, and Virginia Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn paid a visit to Acme Pie Company on Columbia Pike.

All three Democrats are running for office in the upcoming primary, set for Tuesday, June 8 — with early voting happening now. (Filler-Corn is unopposed in the primary.)

Around slices of blueberry and lemon curd pie, joined by Acme’s owner Sol Schott, they discussed small businesses, economic recovery, and their love of pie.

“The best pie in America,” Lopez said about Acme’s offerings. A few moments later, McAuliffe bought a whole pie.

“I got five kids,” the McLean resident and former governor said as his reasoning.

The campaign stop was intended to highlight the plight and hoped-for recovery for Virginia’s small businesses.

“Almost 41% of Black and Brown [owned] businesses have closed. How do you rebuild? How do you bring small businesses back?,” McAuliffe asked. “We do microloans, access to capital, and working on the regulatory structure.”

While Acme Pie has found ways to survive over the last year, it’s been rough going with the shop losing a large slice of its wholesale business.

The business did get a Paycheck Protection Program loan and Schott said that one of the most frustrating aspects was dealing with paperwork and navigating the legalese.

“I would like to see some more hands-on help with paperwork,” Schott told ARLnow. “I did get help from Alfonso personally on that.”

Lopez, who is facing an intra-party challenger in his run for re-election in the 49th District, agrees that the paperwork and amount of work that small business owners need do to gain access to loans and capital can be a barrier.

“What we need to be doing is dealing with procurement reform… and changing the definition of what a small business is,” Lopez said in an interview with ARLnow. “There’s so much more we could do to help these folks who are literally putting everything into their dream of a small business and be able to take care of their family.”

McAuliffe, who is seen as the front-runner for the competitive Democratic gubernatorial nomination, told ARLnow in an interview that the Commonwealth needs to be directly involved in providing access to capital to small businesses.

“We as a state should stand up our own, basically, investment bank structure to help small businesses, to get them off their feet, and work with them,” he said. “The state being involved in micro-financing and other lending opportunities, I think is very important for us.”

The four spoke about other issues impacting residents in Arlington and across Virginia, including education and affordable housing.

“We’ve got to invest in education… You’ve got to have the best education system if you’re going to recruit businesses in the 21st century,” McAuliffe said. “Today, [Virginia] is 50 out of 50 states in average teacher pay. That’s disgraceful… so, raising pay above the national average.”

As housing prices continue to rise in Arlington and Northern Virginia, providing affordable and middle-income housing stock continues to be a challenge — and with Amazon’s increasing presence, it may even become more so.

McAuliffe, who was intimately involved in bringing Amazon to Arlington before leaving office during his first term as governor, says the deal “was the most competitive deal in 50 years in America.”

He admits, however, that the Commonwealth needs to do a better job with helping folks afford housing in the area. The cost of renting an apartment in Northern Virginia, says McAuliffe, has gone up significantly over the five years.

“It’s squeezing people. They can’t afford it,” he tells ARLnow. “Building more affordable housing units is the biggest thing we can do here in Arlington. We need to look at our taxing policy to see if we need to incentivize developers to build more affordable housing.”

In between bites of pie, the three Virginia politicians took a moment to praise Schott for what he’s built on the Pike with Acme Pie Company.

“Sol Schott is a legend in the community,” said Lopez, who noted that he comes to the pie shop often. “You had this dream of doing this just two and a half to three years ago and you made it happen. And now it’s just such a vibrant, dynamic part of our community.”

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