EVERETT — A police investigation into an Everett bikini espresso stand is about politics, not prostitution, the owner of the stand said Thursday.
Bill Wheeler said Everett police are targeting Grab-n-Go Espresso because the city is trying to push through an anti-bikini stand statute. Wheeler owns at least four bikini espresso stands in Snohomish County.
Five baristas at Grab-n-Go were charged Wednesday with multiple counts of prostitution and violating the city’s adult entertainment ordinance after a two-month undercover police investigation.
Investigators said they saw the women exposing themselves, performing lewd acts with whipped cream and posing naked for pictures in the Grab-n-Go at 8015 Broadway. No arrests have been made.
Police allegations that five baristas were charging up to $80 to strip down and flash customers while fixing lattes and mochas are untrue, Wheeler said.
“We’re waiting to read the reports ourselves,” he said.
The women who work at the stands each signed an agreement guaranteeing that they will not behave inappropriately, Wheeler said. Employees who are caught breaking that agreement would immediately be placed on what Wheeler described as “administrative leave.”
Wheeler also told KING-5 news that police “trumped up these charges” after officers had romantically pursued the baristas and been rebuffed.
He declined to comment on whether the accused women are still working at the stand.
The women are expected to be arraigned in Everett Municipal Court in a few weeks.
The news that some women at the stand off Broadway might be selling more than coffee rocketed to national attention Thursday. By lunchtime, “Grab-n-Go Espresso” was No. 5 on Google’s list of most popular search phrases in the U.S.
Gossip maven Perez Hilton gave it a mention on his Web site, adding, “You won’t see that at your local Starbucks.”
All the attention didn’t seem to be hurting sales Thursday, where baristas appeared to be doing a brisk business. Several men in trucks waited in line just after lunch for espresso and an eyeful of the baristas wearing bikinis — not the thongs and pasties they sported last week.
The Everett City Council is expected to decide Wednesday whether to change the city’s lewd conduct ordinance so it would make it more difficult for bikini-hut baristas — or anyone else working in a business with a drive-up window — to bare too much.
The proposed changes wouldn’t ban public bikini-wearing, or the stands, but it would define them as public places where lewd conduct, including women baring their breasts, shouldn’t take place.
In fact, under the proposed update it would still be legal for a woman to wear pasties or even a sheer undergarment in public as long as her nipples and areolas are covered.
The police investigation has nothing to do with the city ordinance, City Councilman Arlan Hatloe said.
“This ordinance isn’t directed toward baristas,” he said. “That’s the hotspot right now, but some of these other activities we’ve heard about would be illegal at a drive-up hamburger stand or a bank.”
The city’s attorneys have crafted the toughest law they can, Hatloe said. He said he favors stricter rules that would ban pasties and thongs, but the city’s legal staff believed it unlikely anything tougher would hold up in court.
“When citizens became enraged, there was an uproar,” he said. “I support that uproar. It’s not the image we want for our city.”
Everett police during the past year had received more than 40 complaints about various bikini coffee stands around the Everett area. The department decided to investigate Grab-n-Go Espresso — the business generating the most complaints, Everett police Sgt. Robert Goetz said.
Some of the complaints allege that some baristas at the Everett coffee hut and three other Grab-n-Go Espresso stands in unincorporated Snohomish County were engaging in prostitution, an Everett police detective wrote in his reports.
Sheriff’s deputies also have received complaints about the Grab-n-Go Espresso south of Silver Lake.
A group of Silver Lake-area residents plans to hold a town hall meeting to address bikini barista stands at 7 p.m. Oct. 6 at Clearview Foursquare Church, 17210 Highway 9 SE, Snohomish.
Rhonda Bremond, who helped organize the meeting, said a loophole in the law allows what amounts to adult entertainment to be conducted near day cares, churches and businesses.
“If by law, baristas and other public business cannot be prevented from wearing nothing but stickers and strings and calling it clothing, then they need to be able to do it away from my property and from my constant exposure,” she wrote in a letter inviting elected officials to the event.
Debra Smith: 425-339-3197, firstname.lastname@example.org