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Tax holiday draws shoppers

FRANKLIN—Shoppers began turning out in larger numbers at local stores on Friday, the first day of Virginia’s annual back-to-school sales tax holiday, which runs through Sunday.

“We definitely have seen an increase in traffic in our aisles since early this morning,” Lisa Evans, assistant manager at the Franklin Wal-Mart, said Friday. “People have been buying book bags, school supplies, pens, crayons, things like that. They’re picking up a lot of things. We haven’t seen an increase in the clothes department yet, just supplies.”

For the fifth consecutive year, Virginia has exempted certain items — school supplies priced under $20 each and clothing and footwear items priced less than $100 each — from the state’s 5-percent sales tax.

“I think it’s great for our community,” Evans said. “The school supplies list (required by local schools) isn’t lightening up. They’re giving us the same amount of required supplies every year. It’s a pretty expensive piece of school, so I think it’s great that we have this tax-free weekend to help the community.”

Nearby, Melinda Jones of Franklin was busy picking out school supplies with her kids.

“We’re here just to get a little jump start,” Jones said. “It’s a lot that (the schools) are requiring everyone to have every year, and it’s very specific. We want to make our supplies last throughout the year.”

Tara Taylor was helping her 14-year-old daughter, Kinsey, get ready for her freshman year at Southampton High School. They had two shopping carts of items.

“It’s good, but the sales don’t always mesh,” Taylor said of the tax holiday. “We found good sales last weekend on clothes. We figured it would be better to spend our money then, than to wait. But overall, the holiday helps a lot when you’ve got big purchases.”

Jones concurred, adding the tax holiday weekend “saves you a couple cents here and there, but it doesn’t really add up to a great amount. But every little bit helps.”

According to the National Retail Federation, 16 states, including Virginia, have some type of sales tax holiday during the year. A survey by the organization estimates the average American family will spend $606.40 on clothes, shoes, supplies and electronics, compared to $548.72 last year, and surpassing the $594.24 spent in 2008.

The NRF survey also estimates total spending on K-12 children will reach $21.35 billion, and when combined with back-to-college spending will hit $55.12 billion, making it the second-largest event for retailers after the winter holidays.

NRF Communications Manager Margaret Case Little, in an opinion piece, said sales tax holidays benefit retailers, shoppers and state governments.

“Regardless of the type of sales tax holiday put into practice, the positives that this action brings about — increased spending, saving budget-focused customers a few extra bucks, and the perception that state governments are being benevolent — should put this movement at the top of the radar for retailers, shoppers and states alike,” Little said.

Virginia has two additional tax holidays a year. Tax breaks on supplies for hurricane preparedness began in 2008 and was held May 25 through 31 this year. An Energy Star products tax holiday, first enacted in 2006, will take place Oct. 8 through 11.

While Virginia’s tax holiday weekend is generous, a similar event in North Carolina is even more so. Through Sunday, shoppers will not have to pay state sales taxes on qualifying purchases, including $100 in clothing, $100 in school supplies, $300 in instructional material, $3,500 on computers and $50 on sports equipment.

Sales taxes in North Carolina vary by locality and range from 7.75 to 8.25 percent.

A full list of exempt items and a set of frequently asked questions about the sales tax holiday weekend in Virginia can be found at www.tax.virginia.gov.