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Georgetown bar owner: Closed captioning will send patrons out of Seattle

Marco Polo Bar and Grill in Georgetown says it has the "best fried chicken in Seattle." (Matt Miera)

The 13 years that Matt Miera has owned the nearly-60-year-old Marco Polo Bar and Grill have been full of blood, sweat, and tears to keep a small business afloat — and now with the city of Seattle’s latest ordinance on closed captioning, he fears that this will only get more arduous.

“It’s not like we’re getting wealthy and we have a ton of money — I mean, it’s the bar business, it’s not glamorous, it’s the restaurant business,” he told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “We work hard, we work 60-plus hours a week, and it’s just one more example of them saying, ‘Hey, this is how you’re going to run your business.'”

The new city ordinance, which will take effect in six months, requires bars and restaurants to turn on closed captioning on every TV they display, so as to accommodate people with hearing loss. Businesses that do not comply with this measure could face hundreds of dollars in fines.

For Miera, who took over ownership of the small business in his mid-20s — an age when many people are still figuring their careers out — the new law is not just invasive, but downright insulting.

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“This just seems to be yet another example of how the city of Seattle has this idea that they know how to run our businesses better than we do — it’s ridiculous. I got a college degree in restaurant management from WSU, and I have learned everything there is to running a successful business,” he said. “And the city council, who has probably never worked a single day of their lives in the private sector, comes in and says, ‘Hey guys, this is how we’re going to start doing things.'”

He had a laugh at the thought of a bureaucrat spending their full-time job walking around to every bar and restaurant in the city to check for closed captioning.

Currently, if a person with hearing difficulties requests that Marco Polo turn on the closed captioning on one of their TVs, they will gladly do it.

“We are all about providing an environment for everybody to enjoy — whether it’s the hearing-impaired, those who have English as a second language, the elderly, everybody,” Miera said.

However, when the city government mandates the closed captioning turned on on every one of the 15 TVs in Marco Polo, Miera sees a problem. He has observed that people get annoyed when the news ticker or the score is covered up by subtitles.

“We will see a loss of revenue because people will be like, ‘I don’t want to watch the game if the words are going to be on every single TV,'” he said. “They’ll just choose not to come to a bar in Seattle. They’ll go to a bar in Bellevue or in Kirkland, where they’re not told how they have to watch a sports game.”

Furthermore, he said, the ordinance is irrelevant. Most of the time — unless there is a Seahawks or Cougars game on — Marco Polo plays music from its jukebox, so even a person of typical hearing abilities would not be able to hear any audio from the TVs.

“Is the city of Seattle going to require us to have a translator there, to do sign language for the music that’s playing over the jukebox?” he asked.

The closed captioning ordinance, like so many of the city’s recent regulations, is just “another way to reach into my pocket and take more money,” Miera feels.

He pointed to the soda tax, which has already caused a noticeable loss in revenue for the eatery since going into effect last year. Now people just order water instead of sugary drinks, he said.

“It’s cheaper to buy a beer than it is to buy a soda these days because of the taxes on the soda they’ve imposed on the restaurants,” he said. “It’s horrible.”

Miera said that with all of the increasing burdens that the city places on small businesses, he sees more restaurants and bars that pack up and leave every year. Georgetown used to be full of places to get a bite or a drink, he said, but this is changing.

“It’s just one more thing that they can do that will continue to push businesses out of the area … the more and more I see these taxes and these rules and regulations come down on restaurants, you see them start to close up and move out of town,” he said. “They’re leaving the Seattle area to go do business somewhere else because they can’t do it anymore — they can’t survive under these economic demands.”

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