EVERETT — The days may be numbered for bikini baristas who make their living serving up sex along with coffee.
The city of Everett is considering a new law that would require workers at coffee stands and other “quick service” restaurants to adhere to a dress code. At minimum, they would need to wear tank tops and shorts or skirts while on the job.
That means a ban on bikinis, pasties, G-strings and other lingerie — outfits that make it easy for workers to flash body parts for cash tips.
The proposed law also would hold stand owners more accountable, something they’ve been able to dodge to some degree because they are not legally responsible for their employees’ criminal acts. Under the proposed law, if workers ignore the dress code and ply their trade in skimpy outfits, stand owners would face civil fines starting at $250 per violation. The ordinance also spells out a process that could lead to business license revocation in a matter of months.
Bikini businesses would not be prohibited. But if somebody wants to argue a First Amendment right to publicly serve coffee or food while nude or wearing next to nothing, they’d be required to comply with city zoning, licensing and regulations that govern adult-entertainment businesses, the draft ordinance notes.
The proposed law is Everett’s latest shot at addressing recurring problems with sexspresso businesses. Since the stands began opening here nearly a decade ago, there have been repeated arrests for prostitution, lewd conduct and other offenses.
Violations of criminal law still would be pursued, but the city thinks the dress code, civil penalties and license revocation likely would result in swifter enforcement at problem businesses, city spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said
The city has begun circulating a draft of the ordinance to potentially affected stands, seeking input. The legislation likely won’t be introduced for public hearings for a couple of months, Pembroke said.
A city FAQ sheet about the dress code features sketches of what male and female workers would look like wearing the minimum approved outfits. Instead of being dressed for the beach or bedroom, the sketches depict people who look as if they are readying for a stroll through the park on a sunny day.
The draft ordinance explains the city’s rationale for the new law. Everett’s research has identified what it calls a “bikini business model,” mixing quick-stop food service with outfits that show a lot of skin. There are bikini hot dog stands in Florida and New York, for example. The city says those operations have seen problems similar to what has been documented at local coffee huts.
Everett officials came up with the idea of focusing on the workers’ attire, Pembroke said.
“The city has seen that the minimalistic nature of the clothing worn by baristas at these ‘bikini’ stands lends itself to criminal conduct” because the outfits make it easy to flash patrons, the proposed ordinance says. “Employees and owners of barista stands where this conduct occurs are making large sums of money from overtly sexual, lewd conduct, and prostitution.”
Everett detectives in 2013 teamed up with FBI agents for an investigation of bikini coffee stands in the city and elsewhere around Snohomish County.
When the raids came, detectives said several of the businesses were operated as drive-through brothels. The bikini stands had appropriated the business model long associated with strip clubs, where workers pay the owner for a chance to make money from patrons willing to pay for sexual behavior, investigators found.
One Everett sexspresso pioneer, Carmela Panico, was a former exotic dancer. For many years she’d helped run strip clubs in Washington formerly owned by the notorious Colocurcio family. Panico installed stripper poles at her coffee stands and hired former nude dancers to serve drinks.
Before she was shut down, Panico admitted raking in multimillion-dollar profits. She also used sexual favors to convince a former Snohomish County sheriff’s sergeant to engage in public corruption, tipping her off when her operations were under surveillance. The deputy lost his job and was sentenced to a year in jail.
Panico pleaded guilty to promoting prostitution. She turned over ownership of two roadside coffee stands to the city, which promptly reduced them to rubble in 2014. The city also has used public nuisance laws to crack down on other stands.
Everett has been criticized for its response to the businesses — by some for not taking more dramatic steps to address the open-air sex trade; by others for directing significant police resources toward what they saw as a victim-less vice.
Even public records about the coffee huts have created headaches. The city is gearing up for a legal battle to determine whether it should be compelled to provide police surveillance videos of baristas misbehaving to a convicted rapist now serving two life sentences. Inmate Jamie Wallin contends he should be provided copies of the videos under the state Public Records Act.
Meanwhile, many coffee stands in Everett have taken steps to avoid being confused with bikini huts. They’ve begun advertising themselves as family-friendly.
Scott North: 425-339-3431; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snorthnews.