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Sales tax break re-creates Christmas

Store officials report crowds and receipts during the nine-day period rivaled those seen in December.

Some retailers in North Pinellas say they were swamped during the nine-day break on sales tax for clothing that ended Sunday, with shoppers emptying racks and filling parking lots as if it were Christmas.

Some stores haven't added up sales and others are reluctant to divulge numbers because of competitive concerns. But at the Clothestime store in Largo Mall, for example, business was up 53 percent during this year's break on sales tax as compared with last year's break, said mall manager Cindy Hoppes.

Hoppes said sales were up at five other stores in Largo Mall she surveyed Monday.

Sales at the Target there were up 15 percent over the same period last year, said store manager Terrie Baird.

"We far exceeded our goal," for sales last week, Baird said. "It was almost all school clothes."

She said one shopper with four sons spent $400 on clothes and saved $28 in tax. "It adds up," Baird said.

The holiday on state sales tax was timed for back-to-school shopping. Most clothing items priced $100 or less were exempt from tax. This year, the break extended over two full weekends, and the list of which items were exempt was better defined than last year, the first year the state implemented the program.

The tax break, coupled with sales and the looming school session, prompted Laura Hehr of Clearwater to go to Countryside Mall Saturday morning and buy clothes for her two sons. She said the parking lot was full and the stores were jammed with people carrying shopping bags.

"It was packed like at Christmas," she said.

The crowd of people at the Wal-Mart on U.S. 19 in Clearwater was "overwhelming," said Al Cannon, assistant manager. "The majority of people were families with kids trying on clothes," he said.

Workers were busy restocking emptied clothing racks Monday, he said.

Lots of families with children packed Clearwater Mall, said mall manager Gaylen Spencer. "It was one of our busiest weeks," he said.

The Target at Boot Ranch in East Lake was incredibly busy all week, said Daniel Ferron, a store manager. He said shoppers were buying clothes not just for school and that some said they were doing some early Christmas shopping.

Ferron said that as the tax-free week wound to a close Sunday night, "people were racing to get shopping carts full of clothing. I think it made a tremendous difference" in sales.