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County wants 'clearly' marked bikini espresso stands

A barista at Fantasy Espresso on Wheaton Way, just north of city limits hands a customer his coffee drink Tuesday. The sign and logo may not be enough for Kitsap County Commissioners seeking to better inform the public of what goes on there. - Greg Skinner
A barista at Fantasy Espresso on Wheaton Way, just north of city limits hands a customer his coffee drink Tuesday. The sign and logo may not be enough for Kitsap County Commissioners seeking to better inform the public of what goes on there.
— image credit: Greg Skinner

Local baristas are free to continue serving up coffee with their pasties in place.

Kitsap County Board of Commissioners decided not to pursue an ordinance which sought to regulate what so-called bikini baristas can wear while serving coffee drinks at roadside stands.

Instead, the BOCC proposes better signage for coffee stands employing scantily clad workers. The signs would explain, or depending on the point of view, warn, customers of what they will see during the exchange.

The new plan is to help the public avoid what they find distasteful rather than try to banish it, according to Kitsap County Commissioner Robert Gelder.

"The problem seemed to be more about people inadvertently driving in without realizing what these stands are about. The board advised us to focus on this," said Shelley Kneip, deputy prosecuting attorney for the county.

The commissioners' decision to back off the county lewd conduct ordinance came after a briefing where the board learned that regulating what the women can and cannot wear while working could violate first amendment rights, specifically freedom of expression.

"I've never seen anyone surprised when they pull up to the window," said Fantasy Espresso barista Alexandra Scott.

Scott said that most people get what the coffee stands are about but that sometimes out-of-towners or  people from Seattle pull up mistakenly to her Wheaton Way stand.

"There's a silhouette of a stripper on our sign," Scott said.

According to Kneip, the county prosecutor's office had earlier received three letters from attorneys which suggested that espresso stand owners would sue the county if they chose to enforce an unconstitutional ordinance.

The BOCC will focus on "consumer awareness" as a solution to the bikini barista problem during a January meeting. They will also discuss adult entertainment licensing and try to more accurately define "lewd conduct."

Two espresso stands in Gorst and one in East Bremerton currently have fencing to shield view of the scantily-dressed baristas from the street.

However, Gelder explained that the stand on Waaga Way has a fence which stands lower than one of the windows, allowing partial views. There are no regulations on fencing and Gelder proposes working with the owners directly to create more overt consumer signs

"It is not a business for everyone, so consumers should be aware well in advance not to engage in that business if that's not what they want," said Gelder.

Scott explained that her stand gets constant business from locals including women, couples, priests, and even Bremerton police.

"We're like any other business in town with regulars that we're happy to see. Of course, sometimes someone will ask us to do more than serve coffee, but we have voice and video surveillance and anyone doing that would be let go," said Scott.

Rich Rein, salesman at the Eastside Auto Wrecking Center next door to Fantasy Espresso said that business has been about the same since the stand arrived.

"They ought to just let them be," said Rein. "People got to have a job. Why shut the little man down?"

Gelder assured that the board is not looking to drive anyone out of business, but rather looking for a way to appease public concerns.

The controversy over bikini baristas has taken up "quite a bit" of time and resources in both the commissioners' and prosecutors' offices, according to both Gelder and Kneip.

"Our goal is to have a hearing in January and to have this issue dealt with by February," said Gelder.

 

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