Complaints about almost-nude baristas hawking coffee in highly visible, roadside stands prompted Snohomish County leaders to lay down strict rules last year.
Drive-through huts where baristas showed too much flesh would
have to register as adult businesses. New rules spelled out clear definitions for what constituted lewd conduct by baristas. And stand owners would be held responsible for employee behavior.
Since then, “we haven’t had any complaints,” county Auditor Carolyn Weikel said. In addition, “we haven’t had anybody come in and get licensed as an adult-business barista.”
As of Friday, those rules will have been in effect for a year. They were expected to apply to an estimated half-dozen or more businesses located in county areas, outside incorporated city limits.
A tight county budget means the Auditor’s Office has no field inspectors to send out to check whether stands are complying, Weikel said. Instead, her office relies on complaints from the public as well as other county workers, including the fire marshal, building inspectors and sheriff’s deputies.
“The activity seems to have died down,” sheriff’s office Bureau Chief Kevin Prentiss said.
Former County Councilman Mike Cooper, who left his county post to become Edmonds mayor, pushed for tougher rules at roadside businesses when he was on the council.
“I expected that more people would change than would register their businesses,” Cooper said. “My sense is that the ones that were the biggest problems have maybe settled down a little bit.”
He also suspects some owners of risque coffee stands are ignoring the county’s ordinances.
“The other side of it is that the county sheriff and the county auditor don’t have the personnel to go and check up on them either,” he said.
In public debate, some people framed the issue as one of “bikini baristas.” In fact, the new rules allow coffee-slingers to wear bikinis.
The county’s intent was to target full or partial nudity, including ultra-skimpy clothing such as pasties and thongs; there also were reports of baristas performing sex acts for money, an act of prostitution.
Everett and Lynnwood also tweaked city laws in 2009 in response to complaints about drive-through coffee businesses.
Some of the stands that drew the loudest public outcry were part of the Grab-n-Go chain belonging to Bill Wheeler of Mill Creek.
Wheeler disappeared in May while on a trip to Las Vegas. His burned-out pickup was found abandoned at a dump site in California’s high desert near Victorville, about 80 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
His disappearance came after an investigation by Everett police led to charges of prostitution and violating the city’s adult entertainment rules against five Grab-n-Go baristas. One of the women later pleaded guilty to working without an adult-entertainment license. The other four baristas negotiated to delay criminal prosecution and could avoid charges if they stay out of trouble for two years. Wheeler wasn’t charged in connection with the investigation.
In Lynnwood, the majority of the public complaints were directed at a stand Wheeler operated across the street from Beverly Elementary School and next door to a preschool, investigations Cmdr. James Nelson said. Public complaints about racy stands mostly subsided after that.
Since Lynnwood leaders clarified city laws about indecency and public places, police have logged three public complaints about barista behavior, Nelson said. Only two of those complaints, if proved, would have broken the law, he said. When officers went to the stand in question, they found no violations.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; email@example.com.