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Kent's new law bans bikini baristas from baring too much
Bikini baristas at about a half dozen Kent coffee stands will need to wear a bit more clothing or face arrest for lewd conduct.
The Kent City Council last month approved a new lewd conduct ordinance that becomes effective Feb. 21 to give police a new tool to handle complaints from residents about the lack of clothing worn by the women who serve coffee at the drive-thru stands.
"We do not anticipate this will put anybody out of business who is in business but it might slightly alter the way they conduct themselves," said Pat Fitzpatrick, acting city attorney, last month at a council Public Safety Committee meeting. "For example, some of these businesses female baristas wear tape or pasties over their breasts and that will no longer be permitted under our ordinance."
Lewd conduct is a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Police have received complaints about seven bikini barista stands in Kent, said Cmdr. Eric Hemmen. Three are on the East Hill, three in the Valley and one on the West Hill.
A bikini barista, who didn't want her name or coffee stand location published in the article but agreed to talk about the change in city law, says she understands the pasties ban.
“I know if I were a mom, I wouldn’t want my kids to see boobs just hanging out," she said.
A few of the drive-thru stands promote through Facebook pages or business signs that baristas will wear pasties on certain days.
A bikini barista who works at Hottie Shots Espresso declined to comment about the change in city law. She said she would give a reporter's number to the coffee stand's owner. The owner did not call. Hottie Shots Espresso features hot girls and delicious drinks, according to its Facebook page. The employees often wear pasties based on its Facebook photos and comments.
"The main matter in this ordinance is a new tool for the police department to deal with a problem that has plagued this city and probably almost every agency in the state," said Fitzpatrick, who added the lewd conduct ordinance explains what is permitted and not permitted in terms of dress.
The city receives complaints every month about bikini baristas showing too much skin.
"They ebb and flow but we receive a lot of complaints," Fitzpatrick said. "We hear complaints from people who are not patronizing the business might be able to see some of the activity going on in the business. Another complaint is often people who work in the coffee stands exit their business scantily or barely clothed to take out the garbage.
"Sometimes we even receive complaints from an unsuspecting customer who just drove up and wanted to get a cup of coffee and was shocked by the lack of clothing worn by those selling the product."
A barista who talked to a reporter says that none of her customers fit the perverted mold that some people associate with the bikini stands.
“People have this stereotype of our customers," she said. “Everyone here is super sweet. They’re just here to get their coffee.”
The woman acknowledges that other shops have provided lewd services, but says that the one she works at doesn’t resort to those practices.
“Some shops give extras, and that’s really gross," she said.
Police have stopped at the stands to ask the bikini baristas to wear more clothing, Hemmen said. He added the women comply for a while and then go back to wearing less clothing.
"They are wearing pasties or tape over their breasts but there's no ordinance we can use against them," Hemmen said prior to the council's approval of the new ordinance. "We ask them to put more clothes on or block windows from the public when they drive by. We're asking for this ordinance because it gives us something where we can take complaints and enforce them. And the kid riding his bike down the street can't see what's happening in these stands."
Other cities have adopted similar ordinances.
"This is a little bit of a touchy situation when you are dealing with First Amendment rights for expression," Councilman Les Thomas said at the committee meeting. "Has this been tested in the courts?"
Fitzpatrick said he was not aware of any court challenges. He said Kent does allow adult entertainment in certain zones so the coffee stand could move to do business under that code.
Kent Police investigated lewd conduct complaints in 2012 at Twin Peaks Espresso on the East Hill that later led to an Everett Police prostitution sting at several coffee stands in Snohomish County and the Kent business. Police also made two arrests of baristas who reportedly exposed themselves to customers in February 2013 at the Twin Peaks stand.
A barista who works at another location says that ultimately the issue is who makes the best coffee, and the bikini setups are simply a side benefit for the customers. If bikinis help attract customers, she doesn’t see a problem with it as long as it’s not lewd.
“People just work to make money, you know," she said. "Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.”