The sound of ringing church bells could be followed by the sound of ringing cash registers in North Dakota this Sunday.

The state House voted 72-33 on Monday to allow retail stores to begin opening for business on Sundays. The state Senate approved the bill last week and Gov. George Sinner plans to sign it this week, said his spokesman, Robert Jansen.The law would take effect immediately, meaning that by this weekend a North Dakota law that has banned most Sunday shopping for more than a century would be just a memory.

"I can't believe it," said Fred Anderson, general manager of West Acres in Fargo, the state's largest shopping mall. "What a relief!"

Since North Dakota became a state in 1889, nearly all its retailers have been barred from opening on Sunday. The law, described by national retailing groups as the nation's toughest, survived earlier legislative overhaul attempts and a court challenge last year.

It was modified in 1985 to allow supermarkets to open on Sundays with staffs of no more than seven employees. The new law will allow retail stores to open at noon on Sundays.

Opponents argued that Sunday shopping could damage family life, but supporters said restaurants, convenience stores and bingo parlors already operate on Sundays.