Lola Scott recalls the frenetic moments of last year's sales tax holiday in Columbus, with shoppers crowding into her Ross Dress for Less store on Whittlesey Boulevard.
"We had lines all of the way down the aisles. It was like Christmas," said Scott, assistant manager of the off-price clothing outlet at Columbus Park Crossing.
With most of the merchandise at Ross on the tax-exempt list — exceptions being luggage and jewelry — Scott and her staff are anticipating a large turnout during this year's holiday, which begins just after midnight tonight across Georgia and runs through midnight Sunday.
"Last year it was mixed," she said of the ages and types of customers who showed up to spend money. "But a lot of them were here for back to school with the kids."
Alabama is having its own tax holiday, although it starts just after midnight Friday and lasts through midnight Sunday. Phenix City, Auburn, Opelika and the Russell and Lee county governments all are participating in that event.
Both tax holidays aim to give consumers a break on everything from polo shirts and sneakers to paper notebooks and personal computers.
In Columbus, it means saving 7 cents on every dollar spent, with the state giving up its customary 4-cent tax haul and the city its 3-cent take. For example, someone purchasing $300 in clothing and school supplies would reap a $21 tax savings.
Sales taxes in Phenix City, Auburn and Opelika are 8 cents. That would boost the tax savings on a similar $300 purchase to $24.
There are other nuances between the two states. For instance, tax-free computer purchases are limited to $750 in Alabama. But the cap is double that at $1,500 in Georgia, which means some shoppers may cross the Chattahoochee River to buy pricier PCs.
School supplies in Georgia, meanwhile, are limited to a tax-exempt price of $20 per item. In Alabama, the limit is $50 per item.
And certain recreational products, like football pads, are tax exempt in the Peach State, but its neighbors to the west aren't allowing that.
Some stores also will be stocking specialty items that others might not be. For instance, the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Whittlesey Boulevard in Columbus has set up a section for student uniforms and apparel required by certain local schools.
Russell Mathis, co-manager of that Wal-Mart, said the store was hit pretty hard last year by the shopping masses during the holiday because it was the only supercenter in Columbus. Since then, new stores have opened on Gateway Road and Airport Thruway, which should thin the crowds somewhat.
"Absolutely, it will be a lot easier for us to give customer service," he said. "This weekend is just going to hit all of the age groups and all of the school groups."
Laptops look to be one of the hottest sellers, Mathis said, with the store advertising basic models at $398 apiece. High school students and those headed to college will likely be in the hunt for the hardware and any accompanying software, he said.
Best Buy also will be an attraction for those seeking personal computers and laptops, with the store off Manchester Expressway selling models from $499 on up. Store services manager Peter Khun said he expects plenty of shoppers and that the electronics outlet will be fully staffed.
"We'll be ready," he said. "We've done it every year and always had a great turnout."
Some retailers have taken note of a couple of possible influences on the holiday this year. Military personnel and retirees should have paychecks in their accounts by Friday and ready to spend.
And some customers have expressed sentiments that they won't go anywhere near a store this weekend because of the anticipated shopping throngs. Congestion in the aisles and in the streets surrounding local shopping centers could be extremely thick.
Tax holiday traffic is expected to be heavier Friday and Saturday and into the final day on Sunday. That has prompted some Columbus store managers to advise anyone uncomfortable with crowds to make their purchases today Thursdaybefore the shopping frenzy builds.
"I believe, from past experience, that usually the early bird gets the worm," said Wal-Mart co-manager Mathis. "But we're planning to have plenty of supplies for the whole weekend. And we're not going to stop selling these items after this weekend. This is just a good chance for the customer to get ahead of the (tax) curve."
TAX FREE HOLIDAYS
Hours: Started 12:01 a.m. today and runs through midnight Sunday
Hours: Starts 12:01 a.m. Friday and runs through midnight Sunday