By Debra Smith Herald Writer
EVERETT — In the cut-throat coffee business, Chris Blackford has found a way to boost sales.
His baristas at RockStar Espresso serve coffee wearing bikini tops at a pink-painted hut off Evergreen Way next to the Wienerschnitzel hot dog stand.
He draws the line at anything skimpier than swimsuits but he said some of his competition doesn’t.
“Bikinis are fine — you can see those if you go the beach,” he said. “The whole pasties and lingerie is a little too much. I’d never go that route.”
Some in the city don’t want him too, either.
Everett leaders are considering a change in the city’s lewd conduct ordinance that could make it more difficult for bikini-hut baristas to bare too much. The proposed changes wouldn’t ban the stands, but it would define them as public places where lewd conduct, including baring breasts, shouldn’t take place.
The City Council is scheduled to take its first look at tonight’s 6:30 meeting. The council won’t likely engage in much discussion or make a decision about the ordinance until the third reading, scheduled for Sept. 30.
The city has received a slew of complaints from people upset about coffee stands with bikini-clad baristas, said Councilman Drew Nielsen. People complained some of the baristas were coming out of the stands and behaving in a provocative manner to draw business.
“The impression you get from some of the complaints is that they are out there pole dancing,” he said.
The city has to negotiate the delicate line between allowing free expression and responding to legitimate concerns from the public, Nielsen said. The city can’t ban people from wearing bikinis. In a free society, “sometimes we have to suffer some conduct from our fellow citizens we’d rather not,” he said.
Lewd acts already are a misdemeanor in Everett. The proposed ordinance adds some specific language that defines specifically what is a lewd act and where it shouldn’t happen. For the first time, it also includes indecent exposure in the ordinance, which was already part of state law.
The proposed changes defines a lewd act as an exposure or display of one’s most personal parts; or touching, caressing or fondling of those parts; or masturbation; or sexual conduct in public.
Breast feeding and forms of artistic expression, such as plays, are not against the law.
The city had planned to update its 25-year-old lewd conduct ordinance before the bikini espresso hut calls started coming in, city spokeswoman Kate Reardon said. The update gave the city the chance to better define the line between lewd conduct and legal expression.
“We’ve worked to eliminate gray areas,” she said. “We try to reflect current times. Drive-up coffee stands didn’t exist 20 years ago and now they’re on every street corner.”
She added that anyone, not just coffee-stand employees, would have to follow the ordinance. The city has received about 50 calls from people complaining about the stands in the last six months.
Part of the ordinance does appear to target coffee stands. The new ordinance includes this description as part of what constitutes public space: “Businesses contained in structures which can serve customers who remain in their vehicles, by means of a drive- up window.”
Blackford, the coffee stand owner, said he doesn’t mind the city’s proposed ordinance.
He’d like to see bikini huts restricted from areas around schools and libraries.
And, he said, it won’t affect his business.
Debra Smith: 425-339-3197, firstname.lastname@example.org.