City Council considering bill to silence sidewalk amplifiers at Lexington Market Merchants say noise scares away shoppers

May 19, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Merchants' complaints about the increasing use of amplifiers in the Lexington Market area have reached the ears of the Baltimore City Council, where a bill was introduced yesterday to ban their use outdoors downtown.

The bill is expected to raise concerns about free speech because many of the amplifiers are used by weekend sidewalk preachers.

Members of the Market Center Association told the council that shoppers are being chased away by the weekend cacophony.

"It's a hindrance to pedestrians and consumers along Lexington Market," said Alvin Levi, an association board member and owner of Howard Street Jewelers.

"It's not an attack on free speech; it's an attack on noise pollution."

If the bill passes, violators could be fined up to $500 and be sentenced to 10 days in jail. The proposed ordinance, which includes a prohibition on amplified "commercial speech," is being sponsored by Councilwoman Sheila Dixon of the 4th District and Councilman Martin O'Malley of the 3rd District.

Dixon agreed to co-sponsor the bill after hearing that some Mass Transit Administration riders have stopped getting off at the Lexington Market stop because of the noise problems.

"Constitutionally, you can't stop people from speaking out," Dixon said. "But now it's taking away people who don't want to get off the subways."

If approved, the law could hurt merchants such as the Beeper Center at Lexington and Park Streets, which relies on amplified music to draw customers.

"It would kill us," said Jamar Giddins, manager of the store. "It's just like when people hear a song they like on the radio, it draws them in."

Sidewalk preachers using amplifiers were scarce yesterday on the market area. Merchants say the problem is mostly confined to weekends.

Steve Walden, a vendor in the area, said he doesn't see why the council is getting involved.

"It's free speech," Walden said. "It doesn't hurt me, and I come through here every day."

Merchants said that with renovations proposed for the Hippodrome Theater on Eutaw Street and the city's push to renovate other sections of downtown, the noise issue must be addressed.

"We're looking to see more people downtown," Levi said. "The only way to be fair is to ban it all."

Pub Date: 5/19/98

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