Overflow crowd blasts, defends Dream Girl Espresso

Monday night’s Forest Grove City Council meeting turned into a referendum on Dream Girl Espresso, a coffee stand that opened in late July featuring baristas wearing bikinis — or a lot less.

In a sight rarely seen at council sessions in Forest Grove, every chair was taken and residents stood several deep around the edges of the room. More than 100 citizens, many dressed in red as a show of unity in opposition to the controversial business, turned out to alternately blast or show support for Dream Girl, which is located in a parking lot adjacent to the Plaid Pantry at the corner of 19th Avenue and Elm Street.

As the meeting began, Mayor Pete Truax advised the overflow crowd not to expect any immediate action on the matter.

“We will get opinions, legal and otherwise, and discuss it at a later date,” he said.

For almost 90 minutes, speakers offered their opinions to council members, who sat quietly and listened without commenting.

Some Dream Girl supporters went first.

“The reason behind shutting down an establishment eludes me,” said Forest Grove resident Lane Jensen. “These people are not breaking any code, and the customer service is out of this world. Parents in Forest Grove are jumping to the extreme.”

Dream Girl co-owner Leah Sizemore, who took to the microphone next, was adamant that her business is breaking no laws.

“We do not serve sex,” she said. “We serve coffee.”

Sizemore then addressed complaints that while she initially had said her female baristas would be clad in bikinis, in the first days of business they appeared in pasties, lingerie and see-through panties.

“Although serving coffee in pasties is legal, I’ve instructed my employees to wear bikinis,” she said.

Bob Elkind introduced a group of residents who believe the drive-through coffee shop “is a public nuisance that will harm existing businesses by driving customers away [and] is a danger to the citizens of Forest Grove.”

Bridget Cooke, whose nonprofit organization is located next door to the coffee kiosk, said she worries about the message the business sends to young women.

“All girls need places that affirm them, and all of us, as full human beings,” said  Cooke, executive director of Adelante Mujeres, a group that supports local Latina women.

Cooke said she was troubled by the experience of a young woman who had interviewed for a job at Dream Girl.

“The owners told [her] the dress code was pasties and lace thongs, and she would need to be ‘a player’ and flirt with customers to get them to come back,” Cooke said. “What messages will you be sending with that, and what risk does that create?”

Dream Girl employee Victoria Walker said she did not appreciate being stereotyped as being involved in something sleazy.

“I am making a living,” she said. “I am able to pay for my own car and apartment with the opportunity the company has been giving me. None of the girls wear transparent underwear with nothing on under that. We are not trying to harm anyone. We are trying to make a living.”

Mitchell Keppinger, who lives next to Bikini Coffee in Hillsboro — also run by Sizemore — said he’s never seen any trouble at that coffee stand, which opened in March. He questioned why some in the Forest Grove community are objecting to Dream Girl.

“What I see is a bunch of people who’ve got issues harassing a small business,” he said.

Approximately 30 people spoke out at the meeting, roughly two-thirds of them opposed to Dream Girl and wanting the city to close the business or force its relocation.

After hearing from everyone who wished to speak, Truax said he appreciated all the testimony.

“We are obviously in a difficult position,” he said.

But councilors may not have much wiggle room. City attorney Paul Elsner told the council and the crowd that the city could not do anything about Dream Girl Espresso or, for that matter, a strip club located in an area zoned for business.

“The government is not free to regulate activity on expressive conduct,” Elsner said. “Obscenity is not illegal. There is no basis for revoking it (Dream Girls’ business license) or amending it. The city has no ability to regulate this business.”

After leaving the council chambers, Elkind said he was not satisfied with Elsner’s conclusion.

“We’re disappointed in his statement and respectfully submit it’s time for a second opinion,” said Elkind.

Elkind added that opponents did not intend to give up.

“We will be back,” he said. “These are people who care about the community. The people who own the coffee shack can put it on a flatbed truck and move to another location, but for us, this is our community.” 

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