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Originally published September 24, 2009 at 8:53 AM | Page modified September 24, 2009 at 10:46 PM

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Are bikini baristas in Everett showing too much skin?

Five female employees at the Bikini Hut, an Everett espresso stand, have been charged with prostitution following a lengthy undercover investigation by Everett police. A sixth barista who works for the same company in the Lynwood area was arraigned Thursday on an indecent-exposure charge.

Seattle Times staff reporter

EVERETT — Business was brisk just before noon Thursday at the Grab-N-Go Bikini Hut, where a lone barista, clad in a skimpy pink string bikini, served up steaming vanilla lattes and an endless supply of cheerful chitchat from behind the counter of the espresso stand.

Customers who waited patiently in pickups and SUVs seemed unaware that the stand — no larger than the master closet of a suburban tract house — has become ground zero in one of Everett's most pressing civic conundrums: What is appropriate behavior at drive-up businesses that serve coffee with a view?

The city, inundated with complaints from citizens and business owners who say the so-called "bikini baristas" expose too much skin, is considering restricting their behavior by updating its decades-old lewd-conduct ordinance.

The issue has gained even more steam now that five Grab-N-Go baristas from the Everett stand were charged this week in Everett Municipal Court with prostitution after a lengthy undercover investigation by Everett police. And Thursday, a sixth Grab-N-Go barista from a Lynnwood-area espresso stand was arraigned on an indecent-exposure charge.

Since July, a group of undercover Everett police officers has frequented the Grab-N-Go stand near Everett Mall after complaints that baristas were exposing themselves for cash or working completely nude, according to an Everett police report. The undercover officers who paid extra say the female baristas stripped naked, fondling each other and exposing themselves, according to a police report. A $20 "whip cream show" featured a barista licking whipped cream off a co-worker's groin and breast, police allege.

Baristas also charged to play "basketball," in which customers threw wadded cash, and baristas caught it in underwear or bikini bottoms, police said.

The Everett City Prosecutor's office charged the women with prostitution because money was exchanged for "sex acts," said an Everett police spokesman.

The women charged in Everett Municipal Court are Samantha Lancaster, Alexis Quigley, Kristina Evenson, Leloni Bailey and Dana Fitzpatrick. Paperwork didn't list ages or cities of residence, although all are between 18 and 24 years old.

The barista charged with indecent exposure, Bridget Barnhouse, 26, was seen "shaking her butt" toward traffic July 10 while outside the stand at 11323 Highway 99, court papers say. The Snohomish woman was wearing a G-string and pasties, charges allege.

Barnhouse and her attorney declined to comment Thursday after her arraignment in Everett District Court.

Bill Wheeler, owner of the four Grab-N-Go stands in Snohomish County, called the charges "B.S." and said that he supports the six employees facing misdemeanor charges. "These are all college girls who are trying to make a living," Wheeler said. "We're a coffee stand, not a strip club."

Wheeler said his employees are told when they are hired that they cannot expose themselves to customers. He believes his stands were targeted because the city of Everett is working to update its adult-entertainment ordinance to include drive-up windows, which would directly impact bikini espresso stands.

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Everett police spokesman Sgt. Robert Goetz said that during the past year his department has received over 40 complaints about espresso stands with baristas in bikinis or lingerie. Similar complaints have been filed with the Snohomish and King counties sheriff's offices and Lynnwood police.

A public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday night on the proposed update to Everett's lewd-conduct ordinance, which would declare drive-up windows a public place, making it illegal for someone to expose their breasts and genitals.

The proposed ordinance also would better define lewd acts and spell out where specific acts are allowed. It would define a lewd act as an exposure or display of one's most personal parts; or touching, caressing or fondling of those parts; or masturbation; or sexual conduct in public.

Everett City spokeswoman Kate Reardon said the move would modernize an antiquated law.

At the Everett Grab-N-Go, the 21-year-old bikini-clad barista leaned in close to take the orders of two men in a truck and asked them if they thought it was inappropriate that women at the stand work in bikinis, pasties and lingerie. She smiled when they offered their wholehearted support.

"It's all blown out of proportion," she said about the allegations. "I think they [the police] are bored, and they need something better to do."

The woman, who declined to give her name out of fear that she would lose her job, said she does not flash customers or offer whipped-cream shows.

"People might find us offensive because we're sexy. But if you find sexy to be offensive, go be a nun," she said.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

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