With an armload of shirts and pants, Amy Treadaway was hunting for bargains for her four boys, who range in age from 3 to 10.
“I have to buy a lot,” she said, sorting through the displays and racks of clothes last week at J.C. Penney at The Mall at Barnes Crossing.
Treadaway, like many other shoppers, was doing some back-to-school shopping.
In addition to buying a lot, she can also save a lot – well, 7 percent anyway – on Friday and Saturday, when the state’s second sales tax holiday happens.
Certain back-to-school items, mostly clothing and shoes that retail for less than $100, are exempt from the state sales tax during the period.
Treadaway, however, didn’t want to wait that long.
“Some things are hard to find, so it’s better that I get them now,” she said. “I have to buy while they’re still there.”
Thanks to Treadaway and shoppers like her, customer traffic has been booming, said mall manager Jeff Snyder. The early August start for area schools and increased retail promotions have pulled in shoppers, he said.
But the biggest shopping days are expected this weekend for the sales tax holiday.
“After looking at last year’s tax-free holiday, we were able to see how big those days were, and it was like another Black Friday,” said Snyder, referring to the day after Thanksgiving, the super-sales extravaganza that kicks off the Christmas selling season.
In fact, some retailers expect even better results.
Missie Young, the store manager at Gap, said last year’s tax-free holiday was a boon.
“For many of us at the mall, it was bigger than Black Friday,” she said.
And like Black Friday, the mall is extending its hours – 9 a.m. to 10 p.m on Friday and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday. Some individual retailers will stay open even longer. Al Cox, the manager at J.C. Penney in the mall, said his store would be open 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday.
“We expect to be very busy,” he said. “Every employee will be here.”
More spending expected
According to the National Retail Federation, the average American family will spend more than $606 on clothes, shoes, supplies and electronics during the back-to-school shopping season, up from last year’s $549.
Total spending on school-aged children in grades K-12 is expected to reach more than $21.3 billion.
ShopperTrak said retailers will see fewer customers visit during the BTS season, but it also expects shoppers will spend more than last year.
ShopperTrak said it expects customer counts to fall 1.4 percent, while total retail revenue will increase 3.5 percent for August compared with the same month in 2009. That compares with a 7.7 percent drop in traffic and a 4.9 percent decline in sales last August.
Treadaway said she has plenty more shopping left to do.
“You just have to buy a little at a time,” she said, adding that she expected to spend about the same this year for school clothing and supplies as she did last year.
The same is true for Niesha Moore, who was shopping for pants and shorts for her sons, ages 5 and 7. While she knew about the sales tax holiday this weekend, it didn’t stop her from buying some clothes last week.
“I’m trying to get a lot out of the way, but I’ll be back this weekend,” she said. “There should be some good bargains.”
At Gap, a 30 percent off sale gets even better on Friday and Saturday when the state sales tax gets axed.
“This week will be big,” Young said.
Melissa Nelson, store manager at American Eagle, agreed.
“Last year was so great, and we think we’ll be very busy,” she said. “It won’t be Black Friday – it will be Black Weekend.”
Downtown Tupelo merchants are getting in the back-to-school shopping spirit as well, and adding a twist. Five stores – Ladybug’s, MLM Clothiers, Monogram It, Main Attraction and Swirls – are having a sales-tax-free week.
From Monday through Saturday, the stores will nix the state sales tax on any item in their stores.
“We did it last year, too,” said Ladybug’s owner Machelle Pitcock. “There was a lot of confusion about what was included or not include and what days the holiday was on, so we’re going to discount everything with no restrictions. It’s just a way of thanking our customers. We’re excited.”
So were shoppers like Gina Roberts, who, along with daughters Hannah and Sara, were looking for back-to-school bargains last week.
They looked at jeans and shoes and planned to visit several more stores.
“It’s more window-shopping now,” Gina Roberts said, adding that they hoped to take advantage of the tax holiday this weekend.
And Snyder expects many window shoppers to open their purses and wallets all this week as the sales tax holiday nears.
“We’re very fortunate to be in a trade area that also happens to be the trade center of the region,” he said. “We’re pulling in people from a 90-mile radius, not just to the mall, but to all of Tupelo, and that’s a good thing. There’s also a lot of spin-off purchases, with people going to restaurants and grocery stores. The tax-free holiday helps everybody.”
• The items exempt from sales tax during the sales tax holiday are identical to those items exempted last year. Clothing and footwear items, meant to be worn next to the body and cost $100 or less per item, are exempt from sales tax during this period.
• Accessories such as jewelry, handbags, wallets, watches, backpacks and similar items do not qualify. Cleats and items worn in conjunction with an athletic or recreational activity are other sample items not eligible. School supplies and computers are not included.
• A list of eligible and non-eligible items also is available on the department’s website at dor.ms.gov
• Call the state Department of Revenue at (601) 923-7015 for any questions.
Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal