Letters to the Editor

July 31, 2014

Howie: Unfair tax system helped the dot-coms kill my Columbia business

Earlier this month, I made the tough decision to close the doors of Kicks Shoes on Devine Street in Columbia. Kicks was more than just a shoe store; it was a place where the local community could gather with friends and try on and shop for shoes and accessories. Unfortunately, we were forced to compete with online retailers that had an 8 percent price advantage over my business. Small businesses across South Carolina — small businesses just like mine — deserve to compete on a level playing field that doesn’t include tax loopholes that allow online-only sellers to avoid collecting sales tax.

Earlier this month, I made the tough decision to close the doors of Kicks Shoes on Devine Street in Columbia. Kicks was more than just a shoe store; it was a place where the local community could gather with friends and try on and shop for shoes and accessories. Unfortunately, we were forced to compete with online retailers that had an 8 percent price advantage over my business. Small businesses across South Carolina — small businesses just like mine — deserve to compete on a level playing field that doesn’t include tax loopholes that allow online-only sellers to avoid collecting sales tax.

My store often operated as a showroom to bargain shoppers who believed they were receiving the ultimate deal because they thought they could shop online tax free. However, when an online retailer doesn’t collect the sales tax from that purchase, then the burden falls onto the customer to file the tax directly with the state. Today’s tax-collection system isn’t keeping up with today’s retail environment. As a result, local businesses like mine pay the price. So does our community.

I know the importance of supporting our local economy. We hired locally — not just employees to run the store, but also contractors and vendors that provided services we needed. We generated tax revenues that went to essential services our community relies on every day. We also were involved in supporting the community through charitable causes. When’s the last time a dot-com retailer sponsored one of our Little League teams? The reality is that local businesses like mine contribute in many ways to the health of this town.

My staff and I, and many other retailers in Columbia, have been waiting for a real solution to end the unfair advantage that online-only sellers have over local businesses. The Marketplace and Internet Tax Fairness Act would protect small businesses, give states the power to enforce their own sales tax laws and strengthen our free-enterprise system while at the same time preventing undue internet access charges on consumers.

This legislation has widespread bipartisan support from local and national business, community leaders and elected officials around the country. I strongly urge Sen. Tim Scott to join his colleague Sen. Lindsey Graham in supporting South Carolina businesses by voting “yes” to e-fairness.

Jackie Scott Howie

Columbia

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