Shoppers fill up stores, registers on tax holiday

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Shoppers crowded into local stores Friday to take advantage of the tax breaks on back-to-school goods, but retailers say their best is yet to come. Today and Sunday are anticipated to be like the day after Thanksgiving in terms of sales volume.

At Old Navy in Westfield Shoppingtown West Park, customers stood in lines that snaked from the checkout counter more than halfway back through the store to check out new clothes for the kids to wear when school opens next week. At J.C. Penney, saleswoman Stephanie Williams said she has been busy all day keeping the tables stocked with blue jeans in the junior department. Jeans were flying out of the store, and customers were snapping up clearance items.

The shopping frenzy comes as the state lifts its sales tax for the weekend on certain goods -- clothes, school supplies, computer merchandise. Many local governments, including those in Cape Girardeau County, have also lifted their sales taxes.

At another West Park location, Payless Shoes' store manager David Webb was happy.

"It's been a madhouse," Webb said. "We've had a lot of people from out of state, from Illinois, Kentucky and a few from Tennessee."

But wouldn't the cost of gasoline cancel out the tax savings?

"I don't care," Webb said. "As long as they're buying shoes I'm happy."

Webb said he didn't think the out-of-state customers came for the savings.

"It's just knowing they're not paying taxes," he said. "I think it's the principle."

Some shopped on principle. Others considered the additional savings just an added bonus.

Carrie Blue of Kennett, Mo., was standing in line at Old Navy with her daughter, who was waiting to check out a brand new lunch box to carry to school with her next week.

"I didn't know about it until yesterday," Blue said. "I had already planned to come here."

Some businesses didn't participate in the tax holiday because they weren't selling back-to-school items, but they still benefited. Joyce Hunter, marketing director at the mall, said she was amazed when she walked by Panera Bread Co. at 11 a.m. and saw the bakery shelves were nearly empty, and observed people standing in line waiting to be seated for lunch as late as 2 p.m. at Pasta House. Other stores, such as Bath and Body Works, were drawing in customers who came to take advantage of the sales tax holiday, and in addition took advantage of the 10-percent-off sale there even though they paid full sales tax.

"This is what we were hoping would happen," Hunter said. "The city took a risk by saying it would support the tax holiday. It's wonderful for our area."

The first day of the sales tax holiday was impressive, but store managers and employees say that Saturday, when more people are free to shop, will be comparable to shopping the day after Thanksgiving. Best Buy at 3026 William St. opened at 7 a.m. Friday morning, and a line of customers was already waiting. Like many other stores, Best Buy marketed around the sales tax holiday. The store has extended hours all weekend, and offered bargains on its computers.

"We've been very, very busy all day long," said general manager Steve Maxcy.

The local store increased the number of employees on duty, and the corporate office prepared for the tax holiday by beefing up Best Buy's inventory.

"We're running out of some items," Maxcy said Friday afternoon.

Wal-Mart stores in Cape Girardeau and Jackson opened more checkout counters than usual to accommodate shoppers buying back-to-school supplies and clothes. Co-manager Ginger Wood said that 21 of the 28 checkout lanes at the Cape Girardeau store were ringing up sales, and Hillary Eye, assistant manager at the store in Jackson, said that only three lanes of the 14 lanes at that store were unused. Eye said the biggest problem her staff has is restocking items quickly enough after the customers empty the shelves.

"I'm working the back-to-school section, and it's wall-to-wall people," Eye said.

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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