Shoppers fill Alabama stores for sales tax holiday

For Jennifer Stewart, Alabama’s sales tax holiday was motivation enough to make her wake up at 6 a.m. to shop.

The Smiths Station mother needed to buy school supplies and clothes for her two sons, ages 9 and 15. The trio first hit Walmart in Phenix City for school supplies, and by 12:30 p.m. they were cruising the clothing aisles at nearby Kmart.

“It does help save (money),” said Stewart, who noted they only planned to shop in Alabama.

Stewart was one of many shoppers today who took advantage of the state’s annual tax-free weekend. The holiday, which ends Sunday, allows people to purchase clothing, books, school supplies and computers without paying sales tax.

This year, the state of Georgia opted not to have a tax holiday in light of its $2 billion deficit. That brought a number of spenders across the Chattahoochee River for back to school shopping, including Columbus father Wesley Murrill.

“They didn’t have any (tax free shopping) in Columbus, so we came over here to save a couple of dollars,” the 52-year-old said outside of Walmart.

Murrill and his 12-year-old daughter, Andrea, picked up a bookbag, pants, and socks — as well as other personal items that were not tax-free.

Inside, Walmart shoppers crowded the school supply section, where the store had 15-cent binders, 25-cent glue sticks and 75-cent paper packs. It also cut prices on some of its computers — for example, a laptop was selling for $348.

“We pushed a lot of the rollbacks out to save the customer money,” said Walmart assistant manager Marcus Johnston. “Seventy-five cent paper — we can’t even keep it in.”

Johnston said the majority of their more than 450 employees had been asked to work this weekend. For Walmart, the back to school shopping season is the second biggest shopping period — in terms of sales volume — after Christmastime, he said.

Families this year are expected to spend more on back to school shopping compared to last year. According to a National Retail Federation survey, the average American family is expected to spend $606.40 on clothes, shoes, supplies and electronics, compared to $548.72 last year.

But the economy will still play a role in their spending. NRF found about 44.3 percent of Americans will buy more store brand or generic products, compared to 41.7 percent last year. About 30.3 percent of parents this year also plan to comparative shop online, versus 26.4 percent in 2009.

“(Customers) are trying to find savings, and we’re trying to offer it to them,” Johnston said.

Back at Kmart, Connie Elias, 42, browsed the shoe section. The Phenix City mother said she had already purchased most of her 8-year-old son’s school necessities, and was just picking up last-minute items.

Elias, a retail manager, said the 7-percent tax break wasn’t that big a deal — unless you were to buy higher-priced items.

“(People) hear ‘tax-free’ and they think ‘savings,’” said Elias, who budgeted $300 for school shopping. “But in the end, I don’t know how much of a difference it makes.”