Should North Dakota Allow Earlier Sunday Openings?


The Sunday closing law is a fascinating one because a lot of the support and opposition to it. Rep. Rick Becker has introduced HB1437 which doesn’t mandate an end to Sunday closing laws but rather gives local government the option of allowing businesses to be open (this is different from HB1367 introduced by Rep. Randy Boehning which would allow alcohol sales starting at 10:00am on Sundays).

The testimony both for and against this bill might surprise you. For instance, the North Dakota Retail Association opposes the bill. “There’s a thread of consistency that runs throughout the retail sector, that no matter how hectic Sunday mornings have become for many of us, that Sunday’s are still viewed as family time for many of North Dakotan’s,” argued Mike Rud from that organization.

You see, many retailers don’t want to be open on Sunday because they don’t get enough sales to justify it, but if the law allows it they feel like they have to be open to compete with larger chain stores like Walmart and Menards.

But other retailers do want to be open. “It’s not a drastic change they are seeking. It may be an hour earlier to allow people to stop by after done with church,” said Rep. Thomas Beadle, noting that the malls in Fargo and Grand Forks would like to open earlier. “Gives them the option of earlier if during the Christmas season they want to be open for sales.”

And some restaurants want it too. Cracker Barrel, for instance, can open its restaurants early on Sunday mornings but they have to wait until noon until they open their retail stores because of the blue law. “It’s a point of frustration for them, they get a lot of Sunday morning retail traffic and they can’t sell anything out of the store until noon,” said Rudie Martinson of the Hospitality Association.

Of course, the religious people want to keep the stores closed. “The purpose of Sunday closing laws is not to dictate how you spend that time, said Chris Dodson from the North Dakota Catholic Conference, “it’s to allow a respite time of commerce. Because communities need rest, not just on the individual.”

At the end of the day, it’s really all about letting the people choose. I don’t think there’s any really good argument for keeping any prohibition on Sunday openings. If people want a day of respite on Sundays they’ll show that by not shopping. But I don’t think people really want that. I think people want to be able to shop, and businesses will adapt to those choices.

Frankly, I don’t think Becker’s bill goes far enough. It’s a step in the right direction, but it merely punts this issue to local governments where we’ll have these same battles. The state ought to be rid of this blue law, a legal anachronism from a by-gone age, once and for all.

Update: A reader emails to now that retail/restaurant employees won’t necessarily get a choice if businesses decide to be open Sunday morning. That’s fair, but that’s a matter to be settled by employees and employers.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Kevin Flanagan

    “Because communities need rest, not just on the individual.”
    How does a “community” rest? What does it do otherwise?

  • jimmypop

    ive never understood bar hours either. if a business wants to stay open, they should be allowed to stay open.

    • opinion8ed

      The cops love this so they can have their coordinated stings ready to go. Maybe the money they receive for DUI should go into a fund which allows any patron to ride a cab home free and cabbies or citizens who give free rides to protect innocent citizens could get reimbursed from this fund.

  • Flyby_Knight

    Regarding your reader’s email in the update: restaurants, hotels, and convenience stores are already open on Sunday mornings.

    • Rob

      Good point, a lot of people already have to work sundays. First responders, etc. Heck, i’ve had to work a lot of sundays in my career.

      It’s not a big deal.

  • nimrod

    Sundays don’t mean much to most people anymore. It should be up to each business, the Gov’t shouldn’t be involved.

  • ec99

    Blue laws were enacted when just about every North Dakotan was a Christian who believed a legitimate role of government was to enforce religious doctrines. Much has happened since then to isolate religion from the secular state. All opening laws should be eliminated.

  • Clint

    Coming from out of state several years ago, this is a stupid law and should be done away with. I’ve often gotten out of church and wanted to hit a store, only to have to wait an hour for it to open. Is that a big deal? No. Is it inconvenient? Yep. It’s also completely nonsensical considering I can go eat at a restaurant while I wait for the stores to open at noon. Let stores be open if they want to. Now if they’d just get rid of the stupid alcohol sales laws. It was a shock to me after moving here to not be able to buy a case of beer at the gas station or grocery store. How stupid. Not to mention the 1AM bar closing time. North Dakota is just ridiculous with some of these laws.

  • Waski_the_Squirrel

    I don’t shop on Sundays. That is part of my religious belief.

    I would rather win people to my side by being a role model and spreading God’s word than by the force of law. There is no reason for this law except to provide shelter to business owners and employees who don’t have the courage of their convictions. I can name several large national chains which do not open on Sunday for religious reasons.

    Frankly, changing a few hours in the law is weak: either take a stand for blue laws or get rid of them altogether. This half-way stuff is just silly.