Families cash in on tax-free weekend

Tom JoyceHeartland News Service

August 5, 2012

Twenty-four dollars.

That’s how much Karen Hiatt and her daughter Charli of Mount Airy saved Saturday afternoon from a short shopping spree at Staples in Mount Airy, during North Carolina’s annual tax-free weekend that began Friday and ends tonight.

The pair left the store with a shopping cart full of back-to-school items such as binders, “lots of paper” and flash drives for digital storage. They also were smiling about the $24 in savings which was achieved.

However, Karen Hiatt explained that money wasn’t the big motivator for their shopping excursion Saturday.

“Normally, I try to stay away from the crowds,” she said of a period some merchants compare to Black Friday, the major shopping day after Thanksgiving. But this year, “I’m waiting until the last minute to get their school supplies,” the mom said sheepishly of her children’s needs for returning to classes.

Similar scenes were playing out elsewhere around town. That included heavy traffic — and near-full parking lots, along with crowded checkout lines — at shopping areas including Walmart, Mayberry Mall and downtown Mount Airy in addition to Forrest Oaks Shopping Center, where Staples is located, and other centers.

“Really, we’ve been pretty steady this tax-free weekend,” said Amanda McConkey, manager of Dollar General on North Andy Griffith Parkway.

The lure is no sales tax being charged on purchases not only of school supplies, but items such as clothing, shoes and computers.

There are limitations on tax-exempt products, including clothing, footwear and school supplies less than $100 per item; school instructional materials less than $300; sports and recreational equipment less than $50; computers less than $3,500; and computer supplies less than $250.

At Kmart in Mayberry Mall, Adriana Barron and other family members, hailing altogether from Dobson and Pilot Mountain, were taking full advantage of the tax-free weekend. This included helping her little brother, Erik, 11, select supplies for the new academic year at Pilot Mountain Elementary School.

Their list included colored pencils, paper and sticky notes.

Business operators say the tax-free weekend is coming at a good time, with solid sales figures showing there might be hope for the economy.

“Business has been very strong,” said Terry Horton, store manager of Staples. “Compared to a regular Saturday, tax-free weekend is always a plus for us.”

As of Saturday afternoon, Horton figured that sales for the weekend thus far were “about even with last year.”

He added, “but I’m positive about that,” since this means consumers haven’t cut back since then.

Horton also said that with his store at least, Sunday — strangely — is usually the biggest shopping day of the three-day weekend.

Computers have been among the biggest sellers at Staples in addition to the school supplies that constitute a good portion of its inventory.

At Dollar General, McConkey, the manager, said customers seemed to be most interested in “essentials — book bags and stuff. And they are going for the sales.”

It is estimated that the state will lose about $13.6 million in revenue this weekend because of the sales-tax moratorium.

At least one observer, the head of a statewide merchants group, has said that instead of putting back the savings, customers are likely to see it as “found money” for spending on treats or other frills for the family.

Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or tjoyce@heartlandpublications.com.