By Joel Hall
Thousands of parents, teachers, and others in need of school supplies and clothing are taking advantage of the state's annual Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday.
Since 12:01 a.m., Thursday morning -- when the seventh annual tax holiday began -- savvy buyers have crowded into retail stores looking for bargains.
Until midnight on Aug. 3, shoppers will pay no sales tax on school supplies valued at $20 or less per item, on clothing and footwear valued at $100 or less per item, and on purchases of personal computers and accessories, valued at $1,500 or less per transaction.
On Friday, many Georgia teachers crowded into The School Box in Morrow using $100 classroom gift cards issued to teachers by the state to offset the cost of classroom supplies. While the gift cards will be honored until Aug. 10, many teachers went shopping on Friday to stretch their $100 even further, said Karen Koschel, store manager.
"It has been hectic," said Koschel. However, "it helps the customer get a better break on the items they need. It helps them stretch the value of their money."
Among the more popular items being purchased, Koschel said, were 'Mavalus tape,' a strong type of classroom adhesive "that sticks to any structure," inspirational posters, and bulletin board paper used to provide visual aids.
Koschel said the sales-tax holiday is a "good time for business." It allows her to "connect with a lot of teachers and make our product, the product they need."
Dana Walton-Cobb, a second-grade teacher at Bethune Elementary in College Park, taught in two different states prior to teaching in Georgia for the last three years. More so than in other states, Georgia is "the place where I've found that a lot of students aren't prepared with materials," Walton-Cobb said.
"I work in a school where kids are less fortunate, so a lot of the teachers have to end up buying the supplies themselves," Walton-Cobb added. "Whatever it is, I make sure that I have a classroom set, just in case."
Walton-Cobb praised the sales-tax holiday, as well as the $100 classroom gift card. "In Florida and Maryland [where she has worked], they didn't have anything like this." She said she will use the money to buy pencils, paper, and scissors.
At the Best Buy in McDonough, recent high school graduates and college students returning to school were shopping for customized laptops.
"We've been very busy and steady for the last three days," said Travis Orndorff, store manager. His store is opening an hour earlier and closing an hour later to accommodate the influx of weekend shoppers.
"The use of a laptop is more than it has been in the past," said Orndorff. "They are really looking for a specific experience. They want to utilize it not just not for business, but for other things."
Orndorff said Best Buy has been selling many Spyware programs, security packages, and other customized laptop upgrades. The store also has been managing the crowd by adjusting its sales approach and offering "personal shopping assistants" to guide customers through the purchasing experience.
"It gives us a chance to brand ourselves as a provider of a great service," said Orndorff. "The No.1 thing that has led to our success in the tax-free [holiday] is that we have learned how to manage the process. It's very organized and very methodical."