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And On The Seventh Day, in North Dakota, They Shopped - At Last

February 11, 1991

FARGO, N.D. (AP) _ Cleone Jensen is among thousands of North Dakotans who made history just by going shopping.

Jensen and his wife drove 250 miles from their Turtle Lake home to spend Sunday at Fargo’s West Acres, the state’s biggest shopping mall, to try out a new law permitting Sunday shopping in this state for the first time.

″It’s about time we got into the 20th century,″ Jensen said. ″There are nine years left, and we just made it.″

Gov. George Sinner signed a bill last Wednesday repealing the state’s 100- year-old blue laws. North Dakota was the last state in the country to prohibit Sunday shopping.

Although stores couldn’t open their doors till noon, the Fargo mall’s parking lot started to fill by 11:30 a.m. Fifteen minutes later, dozens of people were milling in the mall.

By 1 p.m., the parking lot was nearly full, traffic was congested and business was brisk.

Fred Anderson, manager of the mall, said about 5,000 cars packed the parking lot by 2 p.m. with more than 12,000 customers.

Sunday shopping means progress and economic prosperity to its supporters. But others say it will ruin small towns and family time - and they are not ready to give up their battle.

In Mayville, 50 miles north of Fargo, Mayor John Freije called Sunday shopping one of the dumbest things the people of North Dakota have done.

″There’s only so much money to go around,″ Freije said. ″If people can’t spend it in six days, they sure aren’t going to spend it in seven.″

The law was just two days old when a Minot businessman launched a campaign to refer the issue to voters.

Merchants in neighboring Minnesota said they were concerned about the impact on their businesses now that North Dakotans can shop closer to home.

David Gerszewski said Sundays at his pawn shop and variety store in East Grand Forks, Minn., used to be his busiest days. But on Sunday, he said: ″It’s been kind of dead. It was just like a weekday today.″

When North Dakota became a state in 1889, territorial restrictions against breaking the Sabbath were incorporated into state law with few exceptions. Meat, milk and fish could be bought before 9 a.m. and drugs, medicines and surgical tools could be sold.

In 1920, afternoon baseball games were exempted from the law. But a voter initiative to allow movie theaters to open on Sundays was defeated in 1934.

In 1943, lawmakers added public transportation, telephones, newspapers, filling stations and shoeshine stands to the list of Sunday necessities.

Groceries were allowed to open in 1985 if they had no more than six employees and a manager.

When the 1991 Legislature convened, party leaders promised fast action on a Sunday shopping bill. Within a month, the bill was on the governor’s desk. An emergency clause made it effective immediately.

The state Tax Department estimates extra sales tax revenue will fatten the state general fund by up to $10 million per year.

The new law does not affect liquor sales. As before, most sales of alcohol will be prohibited on Sunday, although some restaurants are allowed to serve drinks with meals.

Jim Eddy, manager of a department store in Fargo, said the former shopping ban was ridiculous.

″You couldn’t shop, but you could gamble - What kind of a blue law is that?″ he said.

Some forms of gambling for charity, including black jack and bingo, had been allowed on Sundays.

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