Make us your home page

A Black Friday warmup? Tax holiday means big sales for retailers

Stores worried about a sluggish year aren't celebrating yet, but they are feeling more optimistic after the weekend's busy back-to-school sales tax holiday.

Florida retail officials said consumers crammed stores and malls Friday through Sunday to take advantage of the 6 to 7 percent tax discount on clothing, school supplies and electronics.

"A lot of retailers compared it to Black Friday," said John Fleming, spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation. "Once again, it was a success."

Though back-to-school sales figures won't be available until after kids go back to school, retailers were optimistic that the strong start would bode well for the rest of the year.

Area malls enjoyed a big boost, with stores in all-hands-on-deck mode to handle the crowds.

"It was like Christmas traffic," said Nina Mahoney, marketing director at International Plaza in Tampa.

Stores that cater to school-age customers, such as Hollister, American Eagle Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch, were especially crowded. So were electronics stores, which for the first time offered a tax break on the first $750 of a computer purchase even if the item cost more. Apple's store had waits for sales associates as shoppers combined the tax break with student discounts on computers.

At times, the parking lots were full on Saturday and Sunday, which usually only happens at Christmastime, Mahoney said.

Westfield malls in Brandon, Citrus Park and Clearwater reported double-digit increases in traffic over last year's tax-free weekend. Particularly busy were Forever 21, Rue 21, Charlotte Russe and Windsor, stores geared toward young, college-age shoppers.

At WestShore Plaza, a few hundred people took advantage of a promotion offering a $25 mall gift card for spending $250 at stores and restaurants. Store clerks said they were practicing for Thanksgiving's Black Friday, the biggest single shopping day of the year.

Next to Christmas, back-to-school is considered the second most important shopping season for retailers. Sales are expected to reach $75 billion. It's also a good indicator of how the industry will finish out the year. Generally, brisk back-to-school sales mean a brisk Christmas season, provided people don't stop shopping after the sales tax holiday.

"We've gotten off to a big start, and we still have another few weeks until school starts," Fleming said. "We'll need to see if the traffic continues."

There's power in a pillow, as anyone who wakes up with a neckache knows. There's also big money.

Joy Mangano, an inventor and a favorite guest on HSN, sold 216,000 sets of her Comfort & Joy MemoryCloud pillow in a single day, breaking an HSN record for the number of units of an item sold in one day. At $69.95 for the buy-one, get-one-free set, that amounted to $15.1 million. Even Mangano described it as "wow," calling it a "hallmark day" in her career. Before the pillows, her record was 174,000 Forever Fragrant Odor Eliminating sets sold in one day in 2010. Not even her famous Huggable Hangers have beaten that.

Interestingly, the patent-pending pillows didn't get great reviews on Of the 65 reviews posted as of Monday afternoon, the pillow set averaged 2.5 stars out of 5. Sixteen buyers gave it 5 stars and 33 people gave it 1 star, including some who said the pillows smelled bad and were heavy and lumpy.

"Sorry, these were very hard and I cannot use them. I would compare them to a wet sandbag," wrote one reviewer. Still, a record is a record, and $15.1 million in sales isn't chump change. Plenty of retailers would love to achieve that in a year, forget a single day.

Contact Susan Thurston at or (813) 225-3110. Follow @susan_thurston.

A Black Friday warmup? Tax holiday means big sales for retailers 08/04/14 [Last modified: Saturday, August 6, 2016 3:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Toxic' times: How repeal of Florida's tax on services reverberates, 30 years later

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Long before Hurricane Irma attacked Florida, the state faced a troubled fiscal future that the storm will only make worse.

    Robertson says the tax debate is now “toxic.”
  2. Fewer Tampa Bay homeowners are underwater on their mortgages

    Real Estate

    The percentage of Tampa Bay homeowners underwater on their mortgages continues to drop. In the second quarter of this year, 10.2 percent of borrowers had negative equity compared to nearly 15 percent in the same period a year ago, CoreLogic reported Thursday. Nationally, 5.4 percent of all mortgaged homes were …

    The percentage of Tampa Bay homeowners underwater on their mortgages  continues to drop. [Times file photo]
  3. 'What Happened'? Clinton memoir sold 300,000 copies in first week


    Despite being met with decidedly mixed reviews, What Happened, Hillary Clinton's new memoir about the 2016 presidential campaign, sold a whopping 300,000 copies in its first week.

    The new memoir by former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sold 300,000 copies in its first week.
  4. After Irma topples tree, home sale may be gone with the wind

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — To house hunters searching online, the home for sale in St. Petersburg's Shore Acres neighborhood couldn't have looked more appealing — fully renovated and shaded by the leafy canopy of a magnificent ficus benjamini tree.

    Hurricane Irma's winds recently blew over a large ficus tree, left, in the yard of a home at 3601Alabama Ave NE, right, in Shore Acres which is owned by Brett Schroder who is trying to sell the house.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  5. Unemployment claims double in Florida after Hurricane Irma


    The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped by 23,000 last week to 259,000 as the economic impact of Hurricane Harvey began to fade.

    Homes destroyed by Hurricane Irma on Big Pine Key last week. Hurricane Irma continued to have an impact on the job market in Florida, where unemployment claims more than doubled from the previous week.
[The New York Times file photo]