Our view: Selling liquor on Thanksgiving? Oh, heaven forbid

North Dakota’s arcane and outdated “blue laws” are slowly coming off the books, but apparently not everyone is ready to nix these relics of the past.

Herald pull quote, 3/25/23
Herald graphic

North Dakota’s arcane and outdated “blue laws” are slowly coming off the books, but apparently not everyone is ready to nix these relics of the past.

Case in point: Earlier this week, the state Senate voted 31-14 to reject House Bill 1335, which would have allowed legally entitled establishments to sell off-sale liquor on Thanksgiving Day. The House had narrowly passed HB 1335 earlier in the session.

Perhaps the rejection is an effort to maintain a certain semblance of social conservatism, but it’s as inconsistent as it is meddlesome.

Other retailers who wish to conduct business on Thanksgiving are allowed to do so. Although many choose to be closed, that’s OK – it’s their prerogative. But lawmakers have decided that on certain days, some businesses aren’t allowed to do what they’re legally entitled to do the other days of the year.

According to reporting by Forum News Service, Sen. Scott Meyer, R-Grand Forks, this week tried to convince other senators that allowing liquor stores to open on Thanksgiving is a business-friendly approach. It doesn’t make much sense to mandate that liquor store employees take the day off when bartenders and servers may still be working on Thanksgiving, Meyer said.


So, if we desire, we can spend time on Thanksgiving at a local watering hole. But if we forget to buy wine for Thanksgiving dinner with grandma or beer to drink with Uncle Freddy while eating leftovers and watching football, we’re out of luck.

Meanwhile, scores of people will be lining up at stores on Thanksgiving in hopes of getting an early start on holiday Christmas shopping. So much for that Rockwellian holiday scene.

At least things are improving. In August of 2019, North Dakota finally changed a law that for decades kept most retailers from opening until noon on Sundays. Some businesses – including grocery stores and C-stores – were already exempt.

As we wrote back then, “buying a gallon of milk on a Sunday morning has been OK, but not a gallon of paint. To us, it is government intervention – with good intentions of allowing for family time and whatnot, but needless and inappropriate government intervention nonetheless.”

Blue laws went into place more than a century ago as a way to prevent “Sabbath breaking” – not just to keep people from having a drink, for instance, but also to reduce undue travel or working on Sundays.

But as laws changed, inconsistencies arose. Among them was the exemption for some retailers but not others. Towns along state borders are placed at a disadvantage, and online sales, of course, occur around the clock, 365 days a year.

Has church-going decreased since 2019, when the law against Sunday morning retail was repealed? Has family time drastically decreased? Is there chaos in our streets?

Near as we can tell, no.


Government should steer clear of telling businesses what they can and cannot do, at least within reason. It’s especially true when government is picking and choosing to limit some businesses over others.

North Dakota’s Senate is wrong on this one.

What To Read Next
Get Local