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Forget shopping in North Dakota on a Sunday morning

Minnesota Prairie Roots
A sign along a city street welcomes us to Fargo, North Dakota, from Moorhead, Mi
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
A sign along a city street welcomes us to Fargo, North Dakota, from Moorhead, Minnesota, just across the Red River.

LET’S PRETEND FOR A MOMENT that you are me. You’ve traveled nearly 300 miles from southeastern Minnesota to Fargo, North Dakota, with your husband to visit your son at North Dakota State University in mid-October.

Your son needs basic supplies like laundry detergent and deodorizing powder to sprinkle into his smelly athletic shoes. He also needs long-sleeved shirts, sweaters, socks and a warm scarf to wrap around his neck. Winter, after all, is waiting on flat and windy Fargo’s doorstep.

Being the nice parent that you are, you offer to take your boy shopping. And even though your son detests shopping, he agrees. He is no dummy. He would rather spend Mom and Dad’s money than his own.

So you plan a shopping trip to Target in West Fargo for 10 a.m. Sunday because that will allow the teen to sleep in. Afterward you’ll grab lunch around 11 a.m., then proceed to J.C. Penney (you checked online and Penneys does not open until noon) and leave town by 1 p.m. That is the plan. You have 300 miles to drive yet today.

But the entire plan is tossed out the window when you arrive at Target around 10:30 a.m. Sunday to find the doors locked. This big box retailer does not open until noon.

You suggest heading to Walmart. Your son gets on his smart phone, which he’s recently purchased quite successfully without your assistance or money, thank you. The three of you are soon winding your way around West Fargo, aiming for the discount retailer many love to hate.

Pulling into the parking lot, you notice that the place appears mostly deserted of cars and certainly of customers. As you draw nearer to the front doors, you spot signs stationed at the entrances:

blue law sign
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
The sign posted in front of the West Fargo Walmart on a Sunday morning.

OK, then.

Now what? Change of plans. Again.

Time to proceed with Plan C, which would be to check if Moorhead, Minnesota, just across the Red River, has a Target. It does. So you aim west for the border, driving five-plus miles, burning up gas because you don’t have time to wait for North Dakota’s stores to open.

You arrive at the Minnesota Target to find the parking lot packed with vehicles bearing mostly North Dakota license plates.

If only you had known about the Sunday morning shopping ban in NoDak, you would have planned differently and squeezed in a Saturday evening shopping outing. You would not be a now unhappy and grumpy Fargo visitor.

But you’ve heard/read nothing of this Blue Law (which you can read about in detail by clicking here)…

How are you supposed to know this stuff? You live in southeastern Minnesota.

And why is such a seemingly antiquated law still on the books?

FYI: I DID NOT REALIZE until I later spoke with a friend, a Minnesotan who grew up in North Dakota and whose son lives and works in Fargo, that the Blue Law not all that long ago prohibited retailers from any Sunday sales. So I suppose I should consider it progress that North Dakota retailers can now open their doors at noon on Sunday.

Secondly, this same friend told me that North Dakota has a five percent sales tax on clothing, of which I was unaware. The trip back across the river to the Target store in Moorhead thus saved us some tax dollars. However, according to information I found online, some North Dakota legislators want to repeal that tax. You can read about those efforts by some Fargo Democrats by clicking here.

Finally, can anyone explain the origin of the Blue Law in North Dakota? I expect it dates back to Sunday as a day of rest, as the Lord’s Day. I respect that and hope that most would choose worship over shopping. Yet, times have changed and church services are held on Saturdays too and, well, you know…

This post was written by  Audrey Kletscher Helbling and originally published on  Minnesota Prairie Roots.

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Comments (1)

Blue Laws

Many states still have Blue Laws in one form or another - including Minnesota.

Here's an article that lists them:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_laws_in_the_United_States