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Earplug ordinance clears hurdle at City Hall

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: April 1, 2014 - 4:48 PM

A proposal that would require Minneapolis music venues to carry free earplugs passed a key hurdle at City Hall Wednesday, to the delight of hearing advocates worried about the growing public health impact of loud music.

All but one testifier at a public hearing Tuesday were in support of the idea, conceived by a local clothing manufacturer, Brian Felsen at LGGK, in conjuction with Miracle Ear and 3M.

The three local companies will be jointly paying for the 3M earplugs, which would be installed in about 185 businesses in the city -- largely bars and clubs that offer amplified music for concerts or dancing..

“This is good government,” said ordinance sponsor Council Member Jacob Frey. “We’re tackling something that has flown under the radar for a generation or two.”

But downtown’s most well-known club, First Avenue, opposes the idea. Even though the earplugs would come at no cost to clubs or taxpayers, First Avenue says the requirement cuts into their profits selling about 10,000 pairs of earplugs a year. A testifier at Tuesday’s hearing said it amounts to about $4,000 a year for the club.

“We take a lot of risks putting on bands. And the bands make the lion’s share of money,” said First Avenue General Manager Nate Kranz of the “nickel and dime” business of running music venues. “So we’re reliant on finding other sources of revenue that sort of add up to being a profitable business. And earplugs are certainly one of them.”

Carol Lynn Miller, director of operations at The Seville Club, testified that any revenue loss is “unacceptable” particularly with the potential for the state to pass a higher minimum wage. “It’s difficult for us to find additional areas for revenue,” Miller said.

Frey responded that the cost to First Avenue had to be counterbalanced with the public health impact. “When you’re talking about all the medical costs, the insurance costs… of going to the doctor when you have substantial hearing loss, I think the benefit necessarily outweighs the cost,” Frey said.

Felsen, who carries a specially wired dummy to show the volume of sound from earbuds, noted that the ordinance ensures customers can return to the venues over the long term.

“We’re not here to take away their revenue,” Felson said. “We’re hoping to make the experience of their patrons more comfortable and exciting.”

Elliot Miller of New Hope said he experienced hearing loss after fixing tanks during Operation Desert Storm. He and his son also experienced hearing problems after tractor pulls at the Metrodome.

“This is going to benefit the public,” Miller said. “We are going to be at the forefront in the United States. This is an opportunity for city of Minneapolis to step forward. It’s a no brainer, it’s at no cost.”

Modern research into hearing loss shows that even when loud noise does not impact a person’s ability to hear soft sounds, it can make it harder to distinguish sounds in a noisy atmosphere, according to hearing expert Robert Schlauch at the University of Minnesota.

“Providing earplugs at these venues, I think it’s an important consideration,” Schauch told the committee.
The committee approved the measure on a unanimous voice vote. It next goes to the full council next week for final approval.

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