Shoppers come out for school sales tax holiday

·3 min read

Jul. 17—Randy Young believes Alabama's back-to-school sales tax holiday may have brought a few customers into his boutique store in downtown Oxford Saturday morning — but it's hard to tell.

On the one hand, there's a tax break this weekend that makes some of the items at his store — books and shirts — a little cheaper. On the other hand, there's a mid-July street festival on Oxford's Main Street on Saturday, plus Young's own decision to market the day as "July Palooza."

"People don't know what a palooza is, but they know it sounds fun," said Young, owner of Blackbird Emporium, where Young sells his own art, used and new books and other items on Main Street.

Young was one of likely thousands of retailers across the state hoping for a little boost this weekend from Alabama's annual sales tax break on school supplies, which began Friday and lasts through midnight Sunday. During the tax holiday, the state and most local governments give people a break on tax on school supplies such as pencils and paper, various clothing items, computers and books that cost less than $30. A full list is available on the Alabama Department of Revenue's website.

Begun 16 years ago, the sales tax holiday over its first decade worked its way into the seasonal calendar of school parents and serious bargain hunters alike. But that was before the pandemic destroyed the seasons as we know them, moving football into spring, shutting down holiday parades and forcing graduation ceremonies out into the hot sun.

According to a study by the National Retail Federation, 26 percent of families had already begun their back-to-school shopping by early June, compared to 17 percent before the pandemic. WIth more people shopping online and the economy surging back from pandemic doldrums, it's hard to gauge how much the sales tax break contributed to the brisk business that seemed to be going on in Anniston and Oxford this weekend.

The break did matter to Brenda Williams, who came to Martin's in Oxford Saturday with her daughter Madison, 16, soon to be a high school junior. They were looking for a first-day-of-school outfit.

"A dollar's a dollar," Williams said. "If you give me a chance to save some money, I'm going to take it."

Not everybody at the clothing store was even aware of the tax break, though. Cleveland, Ohio, resident William Jairrels, back in his hometown to visit family, came to Martin's to look for clothes for his father — and left with a plan to come back later for a "senior day" discount.

"This is really the first time I've heard of it," Jairrels said.

Next door to Martin's, the bookstore Second and Charles advertised the tax-free day on a sign by the front door. A staffer at the store said many shoppers seemed pleasantly surprised by the tax break, a sign that few even knew about it before they came to the store.

"We actually came out here because her birthday's coming up," said Lineville resident Nathan Calhoun, referring to his daughter Bailey, soon to turn 10. Calhoun said he was unaware it was already time for the tax break.

Most school local school systems begin class next month. Anniston City and Calhoun County schools open Aug. 9; Oxford schools open Aug. 11; school starts in Jacksonville on Aug. 12.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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