Forum editorial: The state of ND should stop dictating Sunday shopping options

Shoppers await the opening of Walmart in south Bismarck just before noon Sunday, Jan. 6. Under North Dakota's blue law, retail stores in the state are closed from midnight to noon Sunday. Jack Dura / Bismarck Tribune

North Dakota’s Sunday closing law is a convoluted mess that makes a lot of arbitrary shopping decisions for the state’s consumers. It also makes for amusing reading.

Here are a few examples spelling out what you can and can’t buy before noon on Sunday that will furrow your brow.

You can’t buy a video or music recording, for instance, but you can rent one.

You can’t buy toys, unless they are “customarily sold as novelties or souvenirs.”

You can’t buy goods used for sport or recreation — unless they are sold or rented “on the premises where sports or recreational activities are conducted.”


You can’t buy a car, but you can rent one.

Don’t even think about buying clothes, bed coverings, household linens, radios, cameras or jewelry before noon on Sunday — unless you’re shopping at a hobby show, craft show, fair or rummage sale, or tourist attractions that derive at least half their annual gross sales from seasonal or tourist customers.

Sound absurd? It is. The real absurdity: A law tells us what can and can’t be sold on Sunday before noon.

North Dakota remains one of the last bastions of Sunday blue laws.

But, if reason finally prevails, maybe not much longer.

Once again, a bill is before the North Dakota Legislature that would repeal the Sunday closing law.

Opponents will wring their hands and say that we need to set aside time for families at least one day of the week. They will say that Sunday before noon should remain a period of rest and relaxation for retail workers and their families.

We are not going to argue that considerations like those aren’t important. But the state should not dictate what people can or can’t buy before noon on Sunday.


If merchants don’t want to open before noon on Sunday, they don’t have to. Repealing the last vestiges of the outdated Sunday closing law is about expanding freedoms, not taking them away.

We’ve been chipping away at the Sunday blue law, which began during territorial days, for more than a century. When North Dakota became a state in 1889, legislators added a long list of exclusions to the Sunday shopping ban to allow people to buy “necessities,” including food and medicine … as well as candy and tobacco.

A big bite was taken out of the Sunday closing law in 1991, when Sunday shopping was opened up to allow shopping after noon. More than 12,000 shoppers descended upon West Acres on the first Sunday when the law change took effect.

And legislators take note: Tax officials at the time estimated that allowing Sunday shopping would add $10 million to general fund revenues.

It’s time to erase the last, absurd remnants of the Sunday closing law.

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