When you’re First Lady, you can’t just run out to the corner store for a dozen eggs or a carton of milk. Well, not that you’d need to, probably, because you’ve got a whole bunch of people to cook for you, plus aides who get paid to do that sort of thing. But just supposing you wanted to, because it’s so much fun to dash out to the store when you’re in the middle of a cooking project and run out of an essential ingredient. You need to assemble the entourage and make sure you look decent because people are going to gawk. You need to smile and be gracious and maybe sign a few autographs because First Ladies are celebrities. A trip to the store is not some casual five-minute jaunt, is what I’m saying. So when Jill Biden does go out, people pay attention.
The Washington Post has, of course, been paying attention to Biden’s outings over the past six weeks—to a newsstand to grab a few copies of the issue of Time with her picture on the cover, to a bakery to pick up Valentine’s Day goodies, to a coffee shop after participating in a panel discussion at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia—and noticed a pattern: all these businesses were Black- or Latino-owned, and in two cases, the owners were also immigrants. (Only the visit to the newsstand was on a Friday, though.)
The Post tried to find some meaning, despite a lack of comment from the First Lady’s press office: “Maybe the first lady wanted to support small businesses. Maybe she wanted to signal to Black Americans that President Biden was serious when he said his administration would not abandon them. Maybe she just likes places that are touted as having some of the best French macarons and coffee in their respective towns.... [However] Jill Biden seems to know the message she can send just by where she goes to satisfy her caffeine craving.”
These visits aren’t entirely spontaneous in that they’re planned a few hours or days in advance, a source told the Post, but when the First Lady shows up, she’s unaccompanied by the White House press pool. The only documentation comes from the Biden’s staff, the store owners themselves, and other customers. But it all gets disseminated pretty widely over social media, starting with the First Lady’s own Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts.
Also, she’s generous: at the Newsroom, a DC newsstand, she bought $95 worth of newspapers and magazines. At the Sweet Lobby, a Capitol Hill bakery, she ordered one of everything (what a dream!) to take to Camp David for the weekend. At Brewer’s Cafe in Richmond, she just ordered a drip coffee and a couple of pastries for herself, but got drinks for all her aides and Secret Service agents as well. By the time she left, the cafe was packed, and business has been above average in the week since, the owner, Ajay Brewer, told the Post. Which has been good, because, like a lot of businesses, Brewer’s has been struggling in the past year.
Yes, there is probably a political motive: to win over Black and Latino voters and to show that the Biden administration does care. But, says Stephen Bota, one of the owners of the Newsroom, Biden’s aides “do their homework, and she is asking them to lead her to a place to spend her two dollars that means something.”