Local outlets cite tax-free weekend boost
State retailers estimate 2-day reprieve will generate up to $200m in sales
Consumers got a taste of Black Friday hoopla in the dog days of August as they took advantage of the state’s sales tax holiday Saturday to purchase school supplies, laptops, and flat-screen televisions.
“It’s tax-free day,” said Freetown resident Carol Werronen, 51, as she stood in line outside the Apple Store at the South Shore Plaza in Braintree. “It’s the day to save money.”
The two-day break from the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax generated some familiar scenes: long waits outside Apples Stores, steady foot traffic in appliance showrooms, and extra promotions to entice shoppers to open their wallets.
For retailers, the sales tax reprieve offers an opportunity to reclaim some of the business they lose every day to consumers who shop online or in New Hampshire to avoid paying sales taxes, said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.
“It’s a lot about bringing people back from the Internet,” Hurst said. “I’m not sure most people fully understand how quickly mobile commerce is growing and shifting more sales online, the bulk of which are tax-free.”
A study commissioned by the retail organization found that this year’s holiday would generate up to $200 million in sales that would normally go to online retailers and sellers in New Hampshire, Hurst said.
“It’s really a life preserver, particularly for Main Street merchants that have this six-and-a-quarter anchor around their necks,” he said.
The sales tax break runs through Sunday and applies to purchases of single items under $2,500. The Legislature has authorized a sales tax holiday every year since 2004, taking a break only during the Great Recession of 2009.
Last year, the weekend saved consumers nearly $25 million on sales taxes, compared with nearly $15 million in 2008, according to the state Department of Revenue.
At Boston Appliance in Woburn, owner Christian Jason said the sales-tax holiday was bringing a steady flow of customers into the showroom. Shoppers were treated to cookies while they waited to meet with sales staff, he said.
“It’s awesome,” Jason said. “Definitely an increase over last year.”
Governor Charlie Baker, who signed the holiday into law this year, marked the event with a trip to BJ’s Wholesale Club in Danvers, where he bought a television.
Baker shared his purchase in a post to his Twitter account that read, “Bakers now own a flat screen” and included a picture of a 55-inch Samsung curved-screen television.
For some, however, the savings were not enough to persuade them to splurge.
Rosemarie Rodrigues of Somerset visited Coach at South Shore Plaza to look at a bag and learned it cost $1,200.
“The lady was like, ‘It’s tax-free,’ ” Rodrigues said. “I walked out of the store and said, ‘That still doesn’t make me want to buy a bag.’ ”
Some lawmakers oppose the temporary sales tax break.
State Senator William Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat, voted against the legislation this year after being a supporter in the past.
“The expense that the Commonwealth incurs is significant in comparison to the actual economic benefits of the event,” he said. “There’s been an accumulation of evidence that these holidays just don’t work. They don’t benefit people in need.”
Senator Robert L. Hedlund, a Weymouth Republican, said the state should strive to lower the sales tax rather than offering a weekend reprieve.
“We should work to make the sales tax more equitable and more reasonable year-round, not just one day a year,” he said.
Retailers tried to make the most of the holiday with additional discounts, back-to-school promotions, and longer hours at shopping centers.
“It just helps us offset to some degree what we saw this past winter when we were clearly impacted because of the weather,” said Mark Whiting, who manages the Northshore Mall in Peabody. “It’s greatly appreciated.”
At the CambridgeSide Galleria, the sales tax holiday appeared to draw more local shoppers to the mall on a day when much of the clientele usually would be made up of tourists, said Issie Shait, senior vice president of property management for New England Development, which runs the mall.
“I think the consumers look forward to it. I think they’ve come to expect it because it’s been happening for so many years,” Shait said.
He said he also plans to take advantage of the tax reprieve.
“I have to buy a TV,” Shait said. “I have a small TV in my basement, and I think it’s time to update.”