BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota retailers for the first time since statehood may open Sunday mornings but Jeff Hinz will keep his hardware stores closed, opting instead to sit in a pew with his family at church.
"I'm content for now to leave it as is," said Hinz, who will continue to open his two Bismarck businesses at noon. "I don't want to work Sunday morning. I like going to church. If a guy really needs a bag of dirt on Sunday morning, well then, I'm going to lose him."
Though Hinz says he won't be opening, business leaders say most retailers, which must now compete with online shopping, hope to cash in on the expanded hours.
After decades of debate and a growing belief voters would overturn the law rooted in religious tradition, North Dakota's Republican-led Legislature in March repealed the Sunday restrictions, the nation's toughest.
The law took effect on Aug. 1.
Blue laws have existed since North Dakota became a state in 1889, stemming from fears that visiting a retail store on Sunday morning would compete with church and erode family values, leaving little time for rest.
The National Conference of State Legislatures says about a dozen states have some form of Sunday sales laws, but only North Dakota required most retailers to close from midnight to noon on Sundays.
Fargo Republican Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, the bill's primary sponsor, believes the stripping the law from the books will prove popular with residents and businesses.
"I think the majority of state wants to make decisions for themselves," she said.
The state Supreme Court has twice upheld the Sunday shopping ban, once in the mid-1960s and again in the early 1990s, ruling that the law was not to aid religion, but rather to set aside a day for "rest and relaxation."
North Dakota once required most businesses to stay closed on Sundays, but that was changed in 1985 to allow grocery stores to open. In 1991, the legislature agreed to allow most businesses to open on Sundays, but not before noon.
Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger said North Dakota had a "discernable" rise in sales tax collections following the 1991 relaxation of the law, and he expects the same now that it is scrubbed from the books altogether.
"We've always believed more hours and more opportunities leads people to spending more," Rauschenberger said. "More hours in which to shop will mean more shopping will occur."
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People also may be more tempted to buy from local businesses on Sunday mornings rather than online, he said.
"Money spent locally has a multiplying factor and boosts the economy," he said.
The Greater North Dakota Association, the state's chamber of commerce that represents more than 1,000 members, has long supported lifting the ban.
Arik Spencer, the chamber's president and CEO, said most large retailers in the state will extend their hours into Sunday mornings.
"By and large, people are very happy with the repeal," said "This allows businesses to decide to be open or not."
The law leaves in place the state's all-day ban on Sunday vehicle sales and half-day ban on Sunday alcohol sales. Shopping malls and building owners may not require that a business in the facility be open on Sunday.
Hinz, the owner of the Bismarck hardware stores, also is chairman of the North Dakota Retail Association, which has been split over the Sunday shopping ban and had taken a neutral stance on it.
A problem that likely will face most businesses, Hinz said, is finding employees to work on Sunday moring because of the state's tight labor pool. Gov. Doug Burgum has estimated the state has 30,000 more jobs than takers.
Hinz employs 60 people at his two stores, each of which are open 75 hours a week.
"I'm having trouble covering the hours I have now," he said.
Hinz said some of his employees attend church and just as many probably don't.
"It's none of my business if they go to church but I would never force someone to work Sunday mornings," Hinz said. "But who is really up on Sunday mornings? It's people who go to church."