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Skin-baring baristas trigger talk of decency ordinance

By CHARLIE BERMANT

Kitsap County writer

Attention drawn to a Gorst coffee stand staffed by skin-baring baristas has prompted the investigation of what it would take to establish a countywide decency ordinance.

Espresso Gone Wild opened in January, featuring an all-female staff dressed in suggestive lingerie. It soon drew crowds of curious customers, along with considerable negative community reaction.

While many of these complaints were based on moral or aesthetic grounds, one Bremerton resident has taken direct action. Elizabeth Barnes used the public comment portion of Monday’s Kitsap County commissioners meeting to lobby for a local decency ordinance.

“My family has been in this county for generations,” Barnes said. “I don’t think that Kitsap County wants to be known as a place that hosts a nearly topless espresso stand.

“I am not trying to shut them down,” Barnes said. “But there are appropriate places for this type of behavior.”

Barnes said she had heard several rumors that other companies will be opening similar stands in the future. She says she feels a decency ordinance will head off this trend.

While critics of the business have suggested that scantily clad baristas can be dangerous for the customers and employees, Kitsap County Health District Deputy Director Scott Daniels said there are no adverse health issues with regard to this practice.

South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel met with County Administrator Nancy Buonanno Grennan after Barnes’ presentation to determine what it would take to institute such an ordinance.

“I don’t like this,” Angel said of the bare-skin baristas. “They have the right to do business the way they want to, but they should notify the public about what they are doing. You are notified if there is nudity in a movie. We should have the same notice for an espresso stand.”

While many of the customers are curious adults, both Angel and Barnes say that it is important to protect children who may be in the car when an unaware parent drives up to the window.

Ordinances are created from the top down. First, the commissioners must see the need for action, then instruct the prosecuting attorney and Department of Community Development to examine current regulations for a conflict.

Once completed, the ordinance is drafted. It will require ratification by two thirds of the board following a public hearing.

The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office has been aware of the situation since the stand’s opening, and officials have said they will respond to any complaints. As of Thursday, one written and a handful of phone and e-mail complaints were received, according to Deputy Scott Wilson, spokesman for the sheriff’s office.

Additionally, about 10 complaints were received by the Board of Commissioners.

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