The Wash
Pub owners support candidates for Governor
Rose O’Neill and Terry O’Neill at the McAuliffe Henrico Event on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021

A family business meets the state election

Penny Lane Pub in downtown Richmond draws politicians

Update: With 98% of votes counted, Republican Glenn Youngkin has 50.89% of the ballot for Virginia’s gubernatorial seat. Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe has 48.42% of the vote. At least 3,257,029 residents of Virginia voted on Tuesday.

By Lucy Hays and Olivia Tinari

RICHMOND, Va. — A usual weekday lunch crowd at downtown Richmond’s Penny Lane Pub includes Virginia politicians enjoying traditional English cuisines, such as cottage pie and bangers & mash. Penny Lane Pub is one of the longest-running restaurants in the downtown area, operating since 1979. The pub pays homage to Liverpool culture and is named after the Beatles song “Penny Lane.”

The politicians who frequent the pub have helped owners Rose and Terry O’Neill stay connected to local Virginia politics. These connections have led to unique experiences for the O’Neills, including an invitation from former Democratic Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine to meet the Queen of England.

The O’Neills have welcomed regulars and newcomers into their pub for almost 50 years after immigrating to Richmond from Liverpool in 1968.

As small business owners, politics plays a role in the O’Neills’ everyday lives.

“Well, we are immigrants, and we have worked our way up,” said Rose O’Neill. “But as a small business owner, one of our biggest expenses is health insurance.”

Their experiences with health insurance, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, have influenced Rose to vote for Democratic candidates consistently.

“I just feel the Democratic Party understands the struggles and needs of regular people, the person who gets up each day to do better than the day before,” she said. She listed other concerns as well, including education and health care.

She also said that small business incentives and tax programs being proposed are important. “The Democratic Party is trying to lessen the tax burden on people and businesses making less than $400,000,” she said.

Terry McAuliffe
Gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe (D) at a Virginia rally

Both husband and wife knew they had to show their support of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe by attending the Henrico rally. The O’Neills said they were concerned about the prospect of Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin winning.

“I just don’t like the nastiness Youngkin has brought to this race. He is not talking about the needs of ordinary people like healthcare. Unless you have a government job, it’s hard for the basics,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill also feels that a big issue in this election is the current division of the country and the fear of more Trumpism.

“I think it’s more the rhetoric that’s been going on these past four years that really disheartens me,” she said.“All of the nastiness that comes on the television makes me feel unhappy with the way politics, in general, have gone. I don’t think I can take more Trumps running this country,” she added.

O’Neill said that she participated in early voting this cycle but wished she could have gone in person on election day.

“I do like to vote on actual election day because that’s the fun of it. However, with what’s going on right now in the country, I took advantage of the early vote just because it was better,” she said.

Although the O’Neills have retired and passed the business on to their son Terence, they still like to remain involved in the day-to-day business. “Like most family-owned business owners, you never really want to leave it,” she said.. “ attend business meetings here and there… look at my husband, Terry. At 81, he still regularly goes in to help out.”

Although the O’Neills have had their ups and downs with running the Penny Lane Pub, they feel hopeful about what a McAuliffe win could usher in for their business.

“I think owning any business is daunting, but a restaurant is the hardest. You only have to look at how many don’t survive. There are days you just hang in there and pray to start all over again the next day,” she said. “But Penny Lane has always enjoyed feeding both parties.”

The Wash Staff

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