Heard this Mpls. proposal? Free earplugs at clubs

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 22, 2014 - 3:39 PM
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The proposed ordinance would affect nearly 200 businesses in Minneapolis, largely bars and clubs that offer amplified music, like First Avenue, above.

That ringing in your ears after a loud concert is more than just an annoyance. For a trio of local companies, it’s a threat to public health.

They’re pushing for a first-of-its-kind ordinance in Minneapolis that would require just about every music-oriented venue in the city to make earplugs available at no cost to patrons, the city or the venues.

A proposed ordinance sponsored by new Council Member Jacob Frey would affect about 185 businesses in the city, largely bars and clubs that offer amplified music for concerts and dancing. The proposed rules get a public hearing April 1.

“Going to one of these venues, a lot of people just don’t know about hearing loss,” said Brian Felsen, whose apparel company Locally Grown, Globally Known is working in conjunction with the Miracle-Ear Foundation and 3M to coordinate and fund the campaign.

Felsen said he hopes to “make hearing protection cool and fashionable and something that’s relevant,” just as sunglasses have become for eye protection.

The mandate would be unique nationally, though San Francisco has an ordinance that requires venues with dance floors to carry water and earplugs. But the clubs in San Francisco can charge for the earplugs. Felsen hopes to eventually take the Minneapolis free model, which would offer free 3M earplugs in dispensers, to other cities.

The club industry seems to have taken the proposal in stride so far, since the tiny foam devices would be free.

“My position would be that if the government can provide a tool for us to do good or to provide safety and comfort for our customers, I’m all supportive of doing the right thing because it’s at no cost so it’s a no-brainer,” said Deepak Nath, one of the owners of the Pourhouse on Hennepin Avenue.

‘Personal responsibility’

But the proposal didn’t sit well with attorney Cam Winton, who ran as an independent for mayor this fall.

“Just because something’s a good idea doesn’t mean government should mandate it,” said Winton, relating it to a hypothetical requirement for outdoor patios to have sunscreen. “There is a role in our society for personal responsibility.”

Winton also has concerns with City Hall requiring businesses to carry one company’s product. “That’s not how we do business in this country,” he said.

Nath described himself as a conservative and said he’s not a “big fan” of being mandated to do it. But he said the city should take advantage of the free offer and he knows Frey’s motivations are pure.

Jason Jones, 3M’s marketing manager for their hearing solutions business, described himself as a “small government guy” and said he was initially surprised the ordinance was moving forward with the City Council. But he felt it was a sincere effort by Felsen and the Miracle-Ear Foundation, adding that 3M, the largest seller of earplugs in the world, has plenty of other ways to get exposure. Earplugs also aren’t expensive, with a suggested retail price of about 12 cents a pack.

“I look at it as a way to get across to more people a message around hearing protection,” Jones said.

Bert Schlauch, a hearing expert at the University of Minnesota, said concerts, work-related noise and guns are the primary causes of noise-induced hearing loss.

An insidious risk

Earplugs can make a big difference for concertgoers, according to a 2009 study conducted by Schlauch and other researchers. The study sent subjects to concerts with and without earplugs. Many more concertgoers without earplugs experienced temporary hearing loss than those who wore them. Pop shows had higher spikes in volumes than heavy metal concerts, interestingly, because of the crowd noise.

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