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.