Down economy affecting parents’ approach to tax holiday
Retailers are gearing up for what is expected to be the biggest shopping weekend of the year before the winter holidays as parents and students stock up for school during the tax holiday on clothes and school supplies.
The Florida Legislature approved the tax holiday for the second straight year after a three-year hiatus. No state or local sales taxes will be collected on approved items from 12:01 a.m. Friday to 11:59 p.m. Sunday. That’s a savings of 6.75 percent in Alachua County — 6 percent state and 0.75 percent local option. Store sales offer even larger savings as retailers compete for the weekend business, with some also expanding hours of operation.
The tax holiday shifts the biggest school shopping weekend up a week from the weekend before school starts, said Scott Boyer, store manager at JCPenney at The Oaks Mall.
Students return to Alachua County public schools on Aug. 22, as do University of Florida and Santa Fe College students.
“We call it an all-hands-on-deck day where we have everybody working,” Boyer said. “This weekend will make or break the month.”
Boyer said back-to-school sales are flat so far compared with last year after being up for most of the year. He suspects that more people are aware of the tax holiday in its second year and have been holding out for this weekend, while concerns about the economy after the debt debate also might play a factor.
The Target in Butler Plaza has seen school shopping pick up over the past few weeks and expects a weekend rush from parents of K-12 students who want to beat the back-to-college rush when dorms open Wednesday, said store team leader Brian Jablonski.
“That’s when the floodgates open for us,” he said.
College traffic outweighs K-12 traffic at his store, he said.
Nationwide, college families are expected to spend two-thirds of an estimated $66.8 billion in back-to-school shopping this year, since college shoppers buy bigger items such as dorm furnishings and electronics, according to a survey conducted by BIGresearch for the National Retail Federation.
Per-family spending is expected to go down from $606.40 last year to $603.63 for K-12 and from $835.73 to $808.71 for college over economic concerns, the survey shows.
Shoppers are purchasing more store-brand or generic items, doing more comparison shopping online and hunting for sales, while 43.7 percent said the economy is forcing them to spend less in general.
Of three families who spoke Wednesday afternoon to The Sun in the school clothes area at JCPenney, all said they would shop again over the weekend.
Shannon Valentine, 33, of Horseshoe Beach, said she’ll spend less this year for her three kids.
“We’re trying to hit the sales racks and the clearance stuff as much as possible,” she said. “Money-wise, right now it’s pretty tight for my family.”
Kelly Hunt, 26, of High Springs, said she’ll spend more because another of her four children is starting school this year.
Without a school uniform policy in Union County, she said she has found clothes for $5 or less on clearance as stores mark down summer clothes to make room for uniforms.
Mary Helen Griffis, 73, of Starke, was buying uniform clothes for her grandson, who is moving from Putnam County to Bradford County.
She said she would shop over the weekend after first learning of the tax holiday Wednesday at the store.
Retailers say they are prepared to offer more clothes this year that fit the Alachua County school uniform policy, since the School Board last year enacted the policy after many stores already had ordered their fall lineup.
Last year, JCPenney had 1,200 square feet devoted to uniforms, young men’s and juniors clothes in one area, Boyer said. This year, the store has more than 2,000 square feet for just uniforms.
Jablonski said Target decided to carry uniform clothes year-round this year.
Some stores are holding special events. Belk will have a kids fashion show from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday. Target will have 10 motor coaches traveling between the store and the UF campus from 10:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Aug. 19.
Dragonfly Graphics is getting into the act this year with a tent sale at its print shop at 319 SW Third Ave. with six-packs of blank polo shirts for $50 and samples of approved high school and middle school spirit shirts available at Spirit326.com.
Marketing Director Aimee Anderson said Dragonfly Graphics is getting word-of-mouth business, with several schools referring people, since Dragonfly donates 25 percent of the net income on spirit shirts back to the respective schools.
By Anthony Clark