Crowd voices outrage over bikini barista, but some come out in support

CLEARVIEW — The gathering came with a parental warning.

The people who organized a meeting targeting bikini baristas said they planned to talk frankly about a problem they wanted elected officials and police to solve: naughty baristas.

“These girls are basically stripping for tips,” pastor and organizer Shahram Hadian told a crowd of about a 100 Tuesday night at the Clearview Foursquare Church.

Speakers one after the other recounted experiences with bikini espresso huts and questioned why police and politicians hadn’t done more. One organizer, Terri Stecher, read a long list of invited politicians and wondered why none, with the exception of representatives from the Snohomish County sheriff and County Councilman Mike Cooper’s office, had shown.

The meeting was at times raucous with supporters clapping and cheering and a line of bikini barista supporters throwing in a barbed comment from the back.

Hadian, who lives near Silver Lake, said they are pushing for laws that would treat coffee stands with scantily-clad baristas as adult entertainment. Hadian, a father of boys ages 5 and 2, said he is embarrassed to drive by the Grab-n-Go Espresso stand with his children. He talked with a 12-year-old neighbor who said the boys on his school bus shift over to one side when they drive by.

The baristas have a right to self-expression, but the public also has a right to avoid seeing near-nudity and sexual behavior, he said. “There’s a part of me that said enough is enough.”

By week’s end, organizers plan to set up a Web site, www.takeactionsnoco.info, where they want to post videos of baristas who appear to be violating county laws. They said they already have footage.

Hadian also said he is frustrated the sheriff’s office hasn’t done more. People working in a strip mall near the Murphy Corner’s stand complained to the sheriff’s office for a year about activity at a nearby bikini hut: baristas pulling their tops off, jiggling breasts, gyrating their rears and walking nearly nude across the parking lot.

“We sit here for an hour and we see them doing illegal things,” Hadian said Tuesday afternoon. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do some surveillance.”

Two baristas who worked at a different Grab-n-Go stand on Highway 99 were charged in September with indecent exposure. Five other baristas were accused of engaging in prostitution at an Everett Grab-n-Go bikini stand on Broadway following a two-month undercover police investigation.

The sheriff’s office confirmed they’ve received complaints from people about the Murphy’s Corner-area bikini hut as well as many others like it in the south end of the county, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Rebecca Hover.

She said the sheriff’s office is doing what it can to address it within the confines of the law.

The county prosecutor’s office advised the sheriff’s office that part of the county’s ordinance wouldn’t stand up in court, said deputy Jeffrey Miller at Tuesday’s meeting. He said his office wants to deal with the conduct, not the attire. The conduct has gotten “more out there than we anticipated.”

“We are a public safety organization not the fashion police,” he said. “There are some things that have to be worked on the legislative side before we can take action.”

His office plans to focus its attention on owners.

“It’s really the owners who can control some of this conduct of their employees,” he said. “Or they can do business elsewhere.”

The owner of the Grab-n-Go Espresso stands, Bill Wheeler, didn’t attend the meeting.

“We have a right to be in business too,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

He said he’s taken extra steps to respond to complaints, including tinting some of the stands’ windows.

“If they are going to make my coffee stands adult entertainment, they should make Tully’s and Starbucks and everybody else,” he said.

Erin Rammage of Monroe came to support her favorite bikini hut, Cowgirls Espresso, which she likes because “they’ve got the best coffee and freaking smoothies on the planet.”

She didn’t think it was fair to punish all bikini huts for the actions of bad ones.

It’s not bikinis but pasties, thongs and sexually-provocative behavior that seemed to have people steamed up at the meeting.

Tracy Hertlein lives in Everett but she doesn’t want to see stands in the county either.

“Stricter is better,” she said. “It’s bringing society down to a lower level.”

Councilman Cooper’s aide, Kim Cole, said her boss is committed to closing a loophole that allows risque stands to stay open. She said the businesses should be defined as adult entertainment so it can be licensed and subject to time, place and manner restrictions.

She’s received 120 complaints about the issue. When a barista comes out of a stand and dances on a customer’s car — behavior one caller complained about — “that’s a dance club, that’s a stripper.”

A business in the county is considered adults-only if 25 percent or more of its business comes from adult entertainment or products. His plan would allow for the county to restrict visibility from the street and sales to minors. It would include a transition phrase, since many of the controversial stands are located outside areas designated for adult entertainment.

The council probably won’t act on his proposal until December, after they tackle the county budget.

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197, dsmith@heraldnet.com

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