Businesses, parents prepare for return to school

By Michael Davis

Dorothy Cassell wasn't going to wait until this year's sales tax holiday came around to get her school shopping started.

In Cassell's mind, school started Monday, and by the time the weekend rolls around, it would be too late. She and her colleague, Myrtice Robinson, who are assistants at Tri-City Seventh-Day Adventist school, were already stocking up on supplies to decorate classrooms at The School Box in McDonough, where they spent more than three hours on a recent morning.

"But we'll be back up here," Cassell said.

This year's sales tax holiday begins Thursday - providing four days when most clothing, computer and school-supply purchases come free of state and local taxes.

Shopping centers and malls in the Southern Crescent are extending store hours, adding staff and bracing for throngs of shoppers looking to take advantage of the holiday. Under the sales tax holiday legislation, which must be renewed annually by the General Assembly, most clothing items up to $100, computer purchases up to $1,500 and school supplies up to $20 apiece are tax exempt.

At Southlake Mall in Morrow, managers hope extended mall hours will keep traffic spread throughout the days, and lead to higher receipt totals.

"We have extremely extended our hours for the tax-free weekend," said mall spokeswoman Andrea Brinkman. "Our stores saw positive increases last year, which is why we decided to extend the hours this year."

The mall will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. "We expect a 20 to 30 percent increase in traffic for the weekend," Brinkman said.

Tanger Outlet Center in Locust Grove is likewise extending its hours. Many stores will be open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and until 6 or 8 p.m. Sunday.

Jackie Sewell, Tanger's general manager, said extra traffic control, maintenance and cleaning personnel will be brought to the center.

It's those crowds that forced Sandra Pacchioli, of Jackson, into McDonough a week before the holiday to buy supplies for her son, Anthony, 7, a rising second-grader. "It's just easier to get out before the crowds," she said. And besides, she said, "I'd rather save in the sales they're having now."

A spokesman for the Department of Revenue, citing figures compiled by the Georgia State University Fiscal Research Center, said this year's tax holiday period could save shoppers, or cost governments, $16.88 million in tax revenue.

In 2004, DOR spokesman Charles Willey said GSU reported the state government lost $9.9 million in tax revenue, while local governments lost $6 million.

DOR has compiled categorized lists of items that will and won't be tax-exempt. Shoes will be tax-free. Shoe laces, however, are not. Bowling shoes purchased outright are tax-free. Rentals are not. Ties won't be taxed. But cuff links will be.