EVERETT — Racy roadside espresso stands featuring nearly bare-breasted baristas are adult entertainment and can be regulated as such, a Pierce County city’s top legal adviser said last week.
It’s the first signal in the Puget Sound area — the epicenter of the “sexpresso” movement — that the government is willing to rein-in the businesses.
Bonney Lake’s take on the controversy could prove instructive for politicians in Snohomish County who so far have claimed their hands are tied when it comes to ordering baristas to cover some flesh.
“We are aware of the direction that Bonney Lake is taking and we are reviewing their direction and how it might relate to our municipal codes,” Everett spokeswoman Kate Reardon said.
In the past year, several espresso stands with provocatively dressed employees have opened in Snohomish County, including a few stands where baristas cover their breasts with little more than stickers.
Bonney Lake councilwoman Laurie Carter represents a district with two controversial coffee kiosks located on main roads through town.
“I hope that things will settle down now that we know where we stand,” Carter said.
The coffee businesses in Bonney Lake made national news and were the target of protests and angry testimony at City Hall.
One of the stands, Hot Chick-a-Latte, allowed female employees to essentially go topless, covering their breasts with hand-shaped pasties, electrical tape or scarves.
Bonney Lake city attorney James Dionne on Tuesday said the city can impose time, place and manner restrictions on adult entertainment businesses without violating First Amendment free expression rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
He said the city’s rules are modeled after an ordinance upheld by the state Supreme Court.
The city’s adult entertainment ordinance encompasses businesses that allow the exhibition of female breasts below the top of the areola.
Since the city has notified Hot Chick-a-Latte about its interpretation of the rule, the business has watered down its full-bodied marketing gimmick, Bonney Lake Mayor Neil Johnson said.
“As far as I understand, they’ve been wearing bikini tops since everything hit the fan,” he said.
Changes also seem to be spilling over to Snohomish County.
Baristas at Mocha Boat in Lynnwood recently stopped wearing pasties and now stick with bikini tops, lingerie or costumes that cover more of their breasts.
“They just didn’t want a Bonney Lake-type woman coming and causing conflict at our stands,” said Mocha Boat owner Carrie Smith. “But they don’t think, and I don’t think, they violated anything or were inappropriate.”
Bill Wheeler owns Grab ‘N’ Go Espresso with locations in the county between Everett and Mukilteo, and hopes to soon operate a dozen stands in Washington and Nevada.
He said his baristas stopped donning pasties and now only wear bikinis and lingerie.
“We got tired of people whining about it,” he said.
Wheeler said he was asked by a Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy to tone things down. He agreed, and said he understands law enforcement had more important things to do with their time than to police espresso stands.
But there are limits to how much he’s willing to change his business model.
“If they said you can’t wear bikinis, that’s something we would take to the highest court in the state, or higher, if we had to,” Wheeler said.
Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429 or firstname.lastname@example.org.