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Baristas prompt protest
By Judy Halone-The Courier-Herald
The issue swirling around Bonney Lake coffee stands these days may not be regular or decaf, but clothes or no clothes.
To prove that point, a group of local residents and business owners staged a clothing drive for bikini-clad baristas Saturday and Sunday and plan to protest two espresso stands all three days of the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.
The action comes in addition to the public outcry during a “citizen comment” portion of the May 13 City Council meeting. A group of individuals, calling themselves the “Citizens of Bonney Lake,” said they are concerned that the baristas at both the Hot Chick-a-latte espresso stand on Sumner Buckley Highway, and Cowgirls Espresso, on state Route 410, are displaying nudity in public settings.
“My street is pretty close to the barista bar (Hot Chick-a-latte),” Tawnya McKlavey told the council.
McKlavey was pumping gas recently at a nearby station when her children said they saw a “naked girl,” she said.
“I saw a barista with no top on and just stickers the color of a nipple,” McKlavey said. “I had to get in the car as soon as I could and get out.”
McKlavey said the sight was disturbing. She asked Bonney Lake Police what she could do as a citizen.
“The police said to come to the meeting,” she said.
She did - along with a large number of citizens who filled the council chambers to a nearly standing-room-only capacity.
“There's no age requirement,” she said. “There's a law and requirement to go to a strip club or to buy dirty magazines. But here in Bonney Lake we have people serving coffee; it's detrimental to our community. I want this changed for the better.”
Her comments drew applause.
“I am disappointed that this other stand (Cowgirls Espresso) can be allowed in our community,” she said.
Several other citizens voiced similar comments.
City Attorney Jim Dionne stressed throughout the evening that the city must be careful to follow ordinances and constitutional rights.
Linda Smith of Lake Tapps asked Dionne to define what the law says regarding nudity.
“That's a good question,” Dionne said. “We have to see what is illegal so we can regulate. We are governed by these laws.”
During the council session, Dionne emphasized that obscenity can be a gray area and the council must be careful in understanding regulations before it can constitutionally take any action.
Citizens asked Bonney Lake Police Chief Mike Mitchell what they could do to voice complaints on the scantily-dressed baristas, whom some reported as wearing only pasties or a scarf on top, along with sheer underwear. Mitchell replied that an officer must fill out a report in order to verify the incidents.
The department has sent undercover officers in unmarked cars to the establishments in question, Mitchell said. The businesses were abiding by the laws at the time.
Dionne said it is crucial that the council act on facts and not third-party information concerning the lack of clothing some baristas may wear.
Legitimate facts might include photos, taken on public property, that indicate the day, time and, if possible, the name of the person photographed, Mitchell said.
Cowgirls Espresso is licensed to Beth Ann Damery and Kendra Kay Harrington of Buckley, doing business as Seattle Sensations LLC. Calls were forwarded to Chief Executive Officer Scott Arbuckle of Virginia.
“The whole Cowgirls Espresso theme days is all about giving the girls the freedom to give a good time and make themselves comfortable,” Arbuckle said. “We have very stringent codes. We respect them and we respect our customers, and expect them to behave in line with the law.”
Arbuckle said Cowgirls baristas are not allowed to wear pasties. “We do not allow that in our system,” he said.
“Our philosophy of the business and the bikini days is that it is no different than a waterpark. Everyone sends their children to a waterpark and no one thinks nothing of serving hot dogs (while wearing) a bikini. But when you put it in a coffee stand it's unusual and it gets attention.”
He said the espresso stands serve those over 16.
“They're drive-up stands. Our business is much more conservative than a public service area, because they have to be of driving age.”
Hot Chick-a-latte owner Susan Parrish said no one had contacted her about the clothing drive but she had heard about the protest by Mitchell.
Parrish said her baristas have the freedom to wear pasties.
“I have a couple who are comfortable with that,” she said. “We're not breaking the law or doing anything illegal,” she said. “My husband (co-owner Steve Parrish), mentioned that the people who are raising a ruckus don't even live here; they live in Buckley.”
Cowgirls Espresso was made aware of the protest by its customers and not by the citizen group, but had not been notified of the clothing drive.
“This is America,” Arbuckle said. “They have a right to voice their opinion any way they see fit. If there's a protest we'll probably have extra employees on hand to give out free coffee and to answer their questions. We obviously respect that.”
Mayor Neil Johnson said the city had received two complaints, both regarding a barista who walked out of the building while wearing pasties.
Regulating bikini barista businesses and finding clear-cut laws on definitions of nudity is an area the council hoped to address at its May 20 workshop.
“It's not an easy tackle,” Johnson said. “That's why the attorneys are trying to look at everything to define it, so everyone knows what we're looking at. We need to know what we can enforce and how the council wants to process. We need to have the tool to keep the indecent exposure from families; that's my concern.
“Bikinis are fine. But taking it to the next level - to the twirlies, electrical tape or pasties on the nipple is wrong to me in the public view. If it's going to be an adult entertainment, that needs to go into the adult entertainment.”
Johnson said the city will not only consider ordinances addressing nudity but on zone restrictions.
“I understand we have upset folks, but at the same time we have to look at all the rights and make sure we protect them - make sure we have everything in front of us and dot our Is and cross our Ts, so we can enforce and we can abide,” he said.
Johnson said Cowgirls Espresso has contacted the city and requested a meeting with him, Mitchell and City Administrator Don Morrison this week to address the issues.
While the protest remains planned for the weekend, Arbuckle said so far no one has contacted the Cowgirls stand directly or its corporate offices.
“When it opens it's not uncommon to voice comments. We're always going to do the right thing and be respectful of our customers. This will die down; it always does,” he said.