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AS I SEE IT

Posted 4/10/19 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

With North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s signing of House Bill 1097, North Dakota has put to an end its Blue Law, and state residents will finally be able to go shopping before noon on Sundays.
While the bill’s proponents, as well as Gov. Burgum, claim that removing the law will create more business in the state and level the playing field by allowing businesses to better compete with online retailers and border states, one has to wonder if much will actually change on Aug. 1 when all North Dakota stores will have the option of opening at 8 a.m. on Sunday mornings.
North Dakota’s Blue Law dates back to statehood when it was decided that Sunday should be set aside as a day of worship and spending time with family. It was a noble idea.
But times changed and across the nation, people began wanting to be able to shop in the evening and on weekends. And with those demands from consumers, brick and mortar retailers began to expand the hours and the number of days that they were open. And over the past several decades, most states abandoned their Blue Laws. The exception was North Dakota.
While the state allowed some businesses, such as convenience stores and grocery stores to be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and sell virtually anything under the sun, the state’s Blue Law prevented most other retailers from being open on Sundays before noon. For example, a convenience store could sell nuts and bolts and screw drivers Sunday morning, but a hardware store couldn’t be open. Likewise, a grocery store could sell caps and mittens, but a clothing store couldn’t because of the Blue Law.
Quite frankly, with continual tweaks to the state’s Blue Law, the North Dakota Legislature pretty well guaranteed that at some point and time, it no longer made sense to even have it. And that was clearly shown during this session, when the final coup de gras to what was left of the prohibitions on Sunday opening sailed through the House and Senate.
Will the end of the Blue Law have much of an impact across North Dakota? Probably not. Obviously, the majority of businesses located in the malls will be open those extra hours, as will the national retailers. But shoppers probably won’t find many smaller, family-owned and operated businesses extending their business hours.
The reason for the resistance by these small businesses to extend their hours is simple - it’s economics. The vast majority of them aren’t open now on Sundays because the cost of being open and finding staff to work that day is greater than what they expect to see in additional sales.
And locally, that seems to be the direction that most Watford City businesses are taking. As was reported in a story last week in the McKenzie County Farmer, while area retailers agreed that they did not see a good justification to keep the Blue Law, most of them didn’t expect to see any changes in their business hours.
So while the end of the Blue Law may make it easier for consumers in the state’s largest cities to rush out Sunday mornings to go shopping at the malls or other large retailers, it is a safe bet that across the rest of the state of North Dakota, Sunday mornings will still be the time when people can go to church or spend time with their families.