Hoping this weekend’s sales forecast outshines a dreary weather forecast, many Columbia-area retailers are offering extra discounts on merchandise to top off the state’s annual back-to-school tax holiday.
The tax-free weekend, now in its 15th year, started Friday and runs through Sunday. Shoppers can save the state sales tax and any local sales taxes on items ranging from crayons to computers to cargo pants. South Carolina shoppers typically save around $3 million in taxes throughout the weekend, the S.C. Department of Revenue has estimated.
Among racks of candy-colored and printed dresses, skirts, tops and more, an above-average crowd of customers shopped Friday afternoon at Vestique in Five Points, where a number of outgoing spring and summer items were marked down to $5, $10, $15 or $20, making way for new fall inventory.
Erin Lackey, of Irmo, was there, stocking up on purple and orange garments and jewelry for her sophomore year of college at Clemson University.
“I just like the little boutiques more than the mall, so that’s why I’m down here in Five Points,” she said.
After the Christmas shopping season, back-to-school shopping is retailers’ second busiest time of the year, experts say. And the tax-free weekend typically draws crowds looking for bargains.
Vestique is one of nearly two dozen Five Points and Devine Street businesses offering special deals as part of the districts’ annual Summer Sidewalk Sale, this year corresponding with the tax-free weekend. Most of the businesses are locally owned, and merchants say the tax-free weekend coupled with the extra discounts helps draw customers to their stores, where the money they spend goes right back into the community.
“It’s tax-free weekend, and people are out and about already, so to be able to offer an additional sale on top of that is just like a ‘thank you’ for shopping locally,” said Rebecca Powell, CEO of Wish boutique in Five Points, where jewelry and some clothing items were marked down 50 percent Friday.
Ivory Woods perused the racks at Bohemian boutique in Five Points, where she was deciding between a buying a dress or a sweater (or maybe both!), at deep discounts in addition to being tax-free.
“I’m very into supporting the local economy. I’d rather shop with people I know,” she said. “I’ve kind of been waiting to buy something for this weekend. I’ve been kind of looking around to figure out what it is I want to buy.”
Woods is one of many people shopping this weekend who aren’t stocking up for back-to-school items at all – and businesses are taking advantage of the tax holiday to attract those customers, as well.
At Forest Drive’s SAS shoe store, which specializes in selling American-made comfort shoes, customers are earning a $15 discount this weekend in addition to shucking the 8.5 percent sales tax.
“It took a few years, really, for folks to realize that you didn’t have to be going back to school to qualify for the back-to-school (tax holiday),” store manager Blain Pritcher said.
The tax-free weekend typically draws more customers to the store than an average weekend, he said, though sales through early Friday afternoon had been slower than expected.
Many businesses are looking forward to this weekend kicking off what they hope will be a busy fall season.
Wish boutique already has a section of the store dedicated to garnet and black gameday dresses for the upcoming University of South Carolina football season. Powell said she expects to see double the sales this weekend compared with an average weekend over the summer.
“It’s a good thing to kind of boost the economy, boost sales and foot traffic for the Columbia area, and for the state in general,” she said. “It encourages people to go out and shop locally, I hope. I hope they come to us before they go to big chain stores ... because it does make a difference.”