As much of a ritual as a Fourth of July cookout and a summer Red Sox game, this weekend’s Massachusetts sales tax holiday has retailers and consumers buzzing again.
“This is better for us than Black Friday,” said Jerome Murphy, the treasurer of M. Steinert & Sons in Boston, which sells Steinway pianos. “I am a big believer” in the holiday.
This Saturday and Sunday, customers will get a brief reprieve from the 6.25 percent tax on purchases of nearly all retail items costing up to $2,500.
Shoppers and most retailers are eager to take advantage of the tax holiday, which has been signed into law in 10 of the past 11 years. But critics say the holiday adds little value to the economy, because it simply draws shoppers who would have made the same purchases at other times.
Still, the tax holiday remains a reliable draw. In recent years, the state has estimated annual sales tax savings approaching $25 million. Purchases during the tax holidays — and the tax savings that go with them — have increased substantially since the worst years of the economic recession.
For customers making larger purchases, the tax holidays can amount to significant savings.
Brookline resident Eli Delany immediately called Barry Steinberg, president of Direct Tire & Auto Service in Watertown, when he heard about this weekend’s discount and Steinberg’s buy-three-get-one-free promotion for tires.
“It’s always good to be able to take advantage of the savings,” said Delany, a 49-year-old developer and real estate agent. “You can’t go wrong.”
Steinberg said the holiday has consistently proven itself. In 2014, his holiday sales were 30 percent higher, compared with the previous year’s.
Like Steinberg, other business owners plan to capitalize on the boost in traffic, aligning their sales with the weekend and processing pre-selected products this weekend.
Customers at the Circle Furniture store in the Back Bay have been perusing the showroom all week in anticipation of the holiday. Jessica Tubman, director of business development, said tax-holiday weekends typically deliver an entire month’s worth of sales. “It’s just become such an imperative part of the year,” she said. “We love sales tax holiday. It’s good for everybody.”
Brian Nelson, a vice president at Simon Property Group, said his company’s malls become noticeably crowded on tax-holiday weekends. His team has planned programming for common areas and has extended the shopping hours, expecting the weekend to ramp up back-to-school traffic.
A few retailers, however, were not so enthusiastic.
Dean Doucet, the sales manager at Triple AAA Appliances in Jamaica Plain, said the weekend’s transactions are probably just shifted from other times of the year. Doucet also said he has seen the holiday’s impact fade over the years.
“We would have folders that were four inches thick with pre-sales,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be as much interest this year as previous years.”
But many retailers who struggle through the summer months have put pressure on politicians to pass tax holiday legislation, according to Bentley University retail instructor Michael Tesler.
“There’s intense, almost obsessive conversation about beating last year,” Tesler said. “How do you meet or beat those figures? Well, you have to have the event again.”
Customers at the outdoor power equipment retailer Maestranzi Brothers in Beverly are expected to take advantage of the discount to plan for the winter. The weekend’s anticipated increase in snowblower sales not only adds to the business but steals it from a neighboring state with a permanent tax reprieve, said Leo Maestranzi, one of the retailer’s owners.
“Otherwise, people go to New Hampshire to buy their snowblowers,” he said. “It’s about time we steal business from New Hampshire.”