Senate to tackle Sunday Blue Laws

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There is no clear consensus on whether people here prefer to shop on Sunday mornings, further muddying the political waters as state legislators determine whether to repeal the long-standing “Blue Laws” that require North Dakota retailers to be closed until 12 p.m. Sundays.

If enacted, HB 1163 gives businessmen an option to open at 9 a.m. on Sundays. The law was amended in 1985 to allow grocery stores to open and in 1991 new state law allowed Sunday afternoon openings.

Many area business people do not favor opening any earlier on Sundays. In fact, most businesses beyond gas stations and grocery stores aren’t even open on Sundays in rural Richland County. And they will not change that philosophy, even if the Blue Laws change.

Consumers do want the choice of shopping earlier in the day, many citing the fact they have to drive to Minnesota for essentials that complete weekend projects.

Jan Breker owns and operates Lidgerwood Lumber. She opposes opening any earlier on Sunday, saying that is a day reserved for family and worship. She doesn’t believe opening Sunday mornings will result in more sales.

“Fargo wants this. If you drive to Fargo on a Sunday morning, there’s nobody on the streets at all. They aren’t going to be out shopping. They really aren’t. They sleep in because it’s a day off,” Breker added.

Desiree Possehl still wants the choice. She believes opening earlier on a Sunday will be good for North Dakota.

“There’s always those times when you are working on something on a weekend, and then you have to wait until noon. It can be frustrating,” Possehl said.

Without any clear-cut definition by constituents, it has become a complicated measure for the legislature. The House first took on the topic and voted to remain the only state to uphold a Sunday opening law. One day later, the House revoted and passed the measure by a close 48-46 vote.

It was amended in committee last Thursday, so is expected to hit the Senate floor early this week.

Based on what he has heard, the public and retailers have near-equal levels of support and disapproval for HB 1163, said Sen. Larry Luick, R-District 25.

“We’re finding that if the revenue is spread out over the year, there may be a little bit more revenue on weekends, but traffic slows down over the week,” he continued.

Allowing Sunday morning business may increase operating hours by 3 percent for any store in a shopping mall and up to 8 percent for any “big box” store, according to a fiscal note dated Monday, Jan. 9.

Luick has only been contacted by one business that would like the law changed.

“It’s not just about having the time to worship on Sunday,” said Rep. Kathy Skroch, R-District 26, when she spoke against HB 1163 on Jan. 30. “It’s about having one half of a day, maybe six hours, carved out of six and a half days in which we do commerce. I, as an employee — maybe I want to sleep in on a Sunday. Maybe I want to spend some time shooting baskets in the backyard with my kids. Maybe I want to take my dog for a walk.”

Longtime businessman John Popp favors the employee in this political issue. His store, Popp Hardware, has been a fixture on Lidgerwood’s Wiley Avenue for years. He will not open on Sunday, regardless of whether the state repeals the Blue Laws.

“As a sometime shopper on Sunday, I think that noon is fine. I don’t see any reason to make it earlier. It’s not necessarily a religious thing, just for employees so they don’t have to go to work at 9 in the morning on a Sunday. If they want to go to church, they can,” Popp stressed.

Breker also warns legislators to consider the employee before casting their vote on this issue, because it’s the employee “who would get screwed. You’re taking family time away from employees. I realize you’re open at noon, but maybe they have the morning to be together and be a family, especially the ones who worship together. Those are the ones who are getting discriminated against by opening early.”

Sadee Bauman disagrees. She is an employee at Lidgerwood Market who works routinely on Sunday mornings, which opens at 9 a.m. She said employees just have to plan their weekend better. So far, being at work on a Sunday morning hasn’t interfered with her family life.

“You’ll get a few more hours on your paycheck. Honestly, it’ll be the consumer who will enjoy this,” Bauman stressed.

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