South Carolina residents Friday began taking advantage of the tax-free weekend for back-to-school shopping.
The tax holiday runs through Sunday and allows shoppers to save state and local sales taxes – 7 percent in Lexington County and 8 percent in Richland County – on select items, from clothes and shoes to laptops and lunch bags.
While retailers still are battling a mixed economic recovery and increasing online sales, shoppers still showed up in the Midlands looking to pair store sales with tax savings.
Edward Schwartz took his daughter Brianna, 10, clothes shopping at JC Penney in Northeast Richland’s Village at Sandhill around lunchtime Friday. Schwartz, of Elgin, works at Fort Jackson and said he appreciated the tax-free weekend.
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“If it can save me money because I’m on government furlough, that’s fine with me,” he said.
Sasha Ford, who also was shopping at the store, had a handful of kids’ jeans and said she was trying to get an early start before the merchandise was too picked-over. She said she looked online to see what JC Penney had to offer before going to the store.
Even though she was taking advantage of the weekend’s break from paying sales tax, she shops throughout the year.
“School clothes shopping never really ends,” Ford said.
Nationally, shoppers are expected to spend less this year stocking up on back-to-school supplies, according to a National Retail Federation survey. A Columbia-area shopper who spends the average $635 will save $51 in Richland County and $44 in Lexington County during tax-free weekend.
Shoppers Friday were looking to add to those savings at department store sales and shopping at lower-priced consignment shops.
Daff-A-Deals consignment boutique on Two Notch Road in Northeast Richland, which has been in business more than 10 years, used Facebook and customer emails to promote shopping this weekend. The store typically sees double its normal sales during the tax holiday, said Stan Robinson, who was staffing the store Friday.
“(Customers) are looking for savings and children outgrow their clothes so fast,” he said.
Missy Malatesta drove about an hour from Salley to get clothes for her daughters. She said she can’t resist cute stuff at a good deal and makes the trip to the consignment store about three times a year.
Besides clothes, consumers were expected to shop for electronics and standard school supplies.
Amber Washington, 17, is about to start her senior year at Spring Valley High School. She was looking Friday to buy a blue book bag with cushion straps for the school year. She said she doesn’t like rolling book bags, but the style could still be trendy this year.
“Sometimes, it’s not hip to have the rolling style, but this year it seems to be,” said Karen Edwards, a retail professor at the University of South Carolina.
Other items Edwards said would be popular included stretchy book covers, and electronics including computers and tablets.
Edwards also said some of the items that weren’t exempt from the sales tax were interesting. For example, shoppers can buy a swimsuit or beach towel and not have to pay sales tax, but if they wanted to buy a life jacket, then they would have to pay.
Many cash-strapped states are rethinking their tax policies, and some are eliminating tax holidays. Since North Carolina is having its last tax-free weekend this year, Edwards anticipates retail outlets in South Carolina near the states’ border will pick up business from their neighbors, boosting their bottom lines.
But this weekend, “Shoppers are the big winners because they get the tax break,” Edwards said.
Local shop keepers talk about the importance of this weekend