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Shoppers flock to stores on sales tax holiday weekend

Iris Bonilla-Yoon (left) and Ken Yoon looked at a couch and table set inside the Crate and Barrel in Burlington on Saturday.

Colm O'Molloy for The Boston Globe

Iris Bonilla-Yoon (left) and Ken Yoon looked at a couch and table set inside the Crate and Barrel in Burlington on Saturday.

Customers flocked to stores around the state Saturday, looking to take advantage of this summer’s tax-free weekend and find deals on big-ticket items.

This weekend, consumers can bypass Massachusetts’ 6.25 percent sales tax on items priced lower than $2,500. Vehicles, motor boats, tobacco, meals, and utilities are not included in the tax break.

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It is great for businesses that otherwise struggle through a sluggish season for buying, said Jon B. Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.

A typical August weekend without a tax holiday can bring in $100 million in sales. But the state’s tax-free weekends bring in around $500 million, comparable to the weekends following Thanksgiving.

“The sales tax holiday is like Black Friday in August,” he said.

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The holiday was perfectly timed for Ken Yoon and Iris Bonilla-Yoon.

The married couple moved to Lexington in June and have been furnishing their new home, bit by bit.

Once they heard about the tax-free holiday a couple of weeks ago they held off purchasing a sectional couch until Saturday.

“It certainly incentivized us to do it now,” said Ken Yoon, 40, as the two looked at a couch and table set inside Crate and Barrel in Burlington on Saturday morning.

They sat on a display couch, sizing up the furniture, determining if it was big enough for their three children.

“It needs to be durable,” said Bonilla-Yoon, 37. “It is going to be spilled on.”

Amin Sharifuddin forgot about the tax-free weekend last year, but on Saturday he was at the Best Buy down the road, determined to make up for it.

The 31-year-old software engineer from Billerica bought a $700 convertible laptop-tablet as a gift for his father, and was considering picking up an Xbox while he was at it.

He said he is moving to New Delhi next week and wanted to stock up electronics.

Consumers like Sharifuddin, who are ready to make impulse purchases, are exactly the type of consumers retailers want to lure in during these weekends, Hurst said.

Spur-of-the-moment purchases make up around a third of all retail sales.

“If consumers are not in the store in the first place, which otherwise would have been the case this weekend, those sales would never have occurred,” he said.

Pattaradaroon Boonthai, 26, stood next to a stack of shopping bags more than half her height near a crowded Apple Store in CambridgeSide Galleria on Saturday afternoon.

Boonthai moved from Bangkok to Cambridge on Monday, and had a lot of items to buy before her MBA classes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology begin next week.

Among them: a MacBook Air laptop, towels, bed sheets, a comforter, and a comforter cover. She spent about $2,000, which would have accrued about $125 in taxes any other weekend.

“I need to buy all these things anyway, and I planned to do it this weekend anyway because I have time,” she said. “It was a perfect match.”

Liya Razzaq and her fiance, who was picking out pillows at TJ Maxx in the Cambridge mall as she waited outside, are getting married next Saturday and moving to a new home, she said.

Razzaq carried a few bags stuffed with odds and ends — more pillows, a curtain rod, earrings, and a dress shirt for her soon-to-be in-laws, and some tea for her and her fiance. Nothing too big, she said.

“Just these random little things we need,” Razzaq said. “You know, we’re spending a lot of money on the wedding, so we need to save whenever we can.”

Mike Tesler, a partner at Retail Concepts, a consulting firm based in Norwell, acknowledged the weekend brings in new business but it is a quick boost and not essential to the well-being of retail stores.

“Big picture, it doesn’t matter much at all, most of the items purchased would have been bought anyway,” he said in an e-mail. “Retailers just condense a lot into this one weekend.”

Even with the rebounding economy, many consumers are still pessimistic, Hurst said, so on top of the tax holiday, many stores lure shoppers in with coupons to increase the chance they will make impulse buys.

That was the case with Kyle Larabee and Lena Kozloski.

A coupon and the tax holiday brought the Cambridge couple and their two children to the Crate and Barrel in Burlington. They were looking for a $300 toaster they have had their eyes on.

They left with it — and two chef’s knives, bedding, and pillows.

After they finished packing their tax-free purchases into their car, they went back in to hunt for one last item: a grill.

“If we don’t buy it now we will be back next August,” Kozloski, 47, said. “We try to do it all at the same time.”

It seems there is no better time than now.

Javier Panzar can be reached at javier.panzar@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter@jpanzar. Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at gal.lotan@globe.com.
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