News Column

Tax-free Weekend Leaves Businesses, Customers Happy

Aug. 6, 2012

Drew Taylor, Opelika-Auburn News

Store managers across Lee County, Ala., felt their businesses benefited from the annual sales tax holiday, which concluded Sunday evening.

The holiday, which started at midnight Friday, included more than 250 counties and cities across Alabama, including Lee County, Auburn and Opelika.

Tax-exempt items included clothing priced at $100 or less; computers and software priced at $750 or less; school supplies priced at $50 or less and books priced at $30 or less.

One hotbed of activity during the weekend was the TigerTown shopping center in Opelika. Nolan Dortch, executive team leader at Target, said there had been much buildup for the holiday, as well as the upcoming school year, and that Target experienced a good weekend in sales.

"We've had a very good turnout," Dortch said, who added that the biggest selling items in the store were school supplies.

On Sunday afternoon, Sandra and Katie Smith took advantage of the tax exemption at Target, buying school supplies for Katie's two daughters, who attend Wacoochee Elementary School in Salem. The Smiths had previously been to Walmart but needed to go to Target when they couldn't find all the things they needed on their list.

"She's a single mother, and it takes both of us to get supplies," Sandra Smith said. "When it's two weeks ahead of time, it's nice."

Katie Smith said Wacoochee offers a wish list with a number of items that teachers at the school will need during the year, such as markers and paper.

"We save enough money to help the teachers out," she said.

Karl Ward, assistant manager at Best Buy in Opelika, said business on Friday and Saturday was good, and he expected the store had higher sales compared to last year's holiday.

"We expected it to be successful this year," Ward said.

Roughly 80 percent of in-store traffic was directed to the computer department, where shoppers bought laptops and tablets, the latter item being a new factor for the store during this year's holiday, Ward said.

"Because of some area schools requiring students to use tablets, that increased our tablet sales this year," he said.

In addition to laptops and tablets, computer/printer packages were also hot items for the store. Ward said one added benefit of the sales tax holiday was gaining new customers looking for the latest technology.

"They were definitely pleased with the service," he said.

Bobby Tindal, store manager at Kinnucan's in Auburn, said he believes sales had increased from last year, mainly due to students going back to school, as well as Rush Week starting at Auburn University. Tindal said running shoes were the top selling items in the store for the weekend.

"The customers were very happy," Tindal said.

Barbara Patton, president of the Opelika Chamber of Commerce, said the sales tax holiday is one of the biggest shopping times during the year. Despite having mixed results the last couple years, business has picked up over the past year, and the latest holiday should mark a good year for merchants, she said.

"I think it's going to be a good year," Patton said. "School starts in a couple of weeks, parents are getting prepared and the economy has picked up a slight bit, so I think it's going to be really good."

An attempt to reach Lolly Steiner, president of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, was unsuccessful Sunday afternoon.

Nancy Dennis, director of public relations for the Alabama Retail Association, said it's important to consider that schools will start later than usual on Aug. 20, which may give retailers a chance to engage with parents who normally shop early for school supplies.

"We'll see if people actually got out," Dennis said.

Another factor is a similar promotion in Georgia, which will have a sales tax holiday Aug. 10-11 for the first time since 2009. Dennis said Georgians likely took advantage of sales in nearby Alabama cities, such as Auburn and Opelika, over the weekend.

Dennis said the state expects 6 percent growth in sales tax proceeds over this time last year.

"It can be one of the top three weekends of their year," Dennis said, mentioning the weekends after Thanksgiving and Christmas as two major shopping dates. "Every year, except for one, the state has collected more sales tax than the year before."

Source: (c)2012 the Opelika-Auburn News (Opelika, Ala.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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