Merchants weather tax-free weekend

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Within a 72-hour period, the first-ever Sales Tax Holiday in Alabama history came and went. For stores to be able to pull off the school supply clearance sale, it was thanks in part to weeks of planning on the part of managers and owners. Some stores were playing it by ear, like Tools for Learning and Dollar Max. While others, like The Shoe Department were able to call on other stores who had participated in this tax-free weekend in other states.

“We’ve been really busy,” said Matt Underwood, the district manager of the Shoe Department. “We called in extra staff and hired some temps for the weekend.”

Underwood was able to draw from the fact that stores in Georgia and Florida had to deal with sales of this nature and gained an idea of what to expect during the Alabama rush.

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“Typically in a store like this you hire four or five extra people,” said Underwood. “I think we hired six, one or two to work just during this weekend.”

For Trish McVay at Tools for Learning, this weekend was a new experience.

“We’ve been very busy,” said McVay. “It was a very successful weekend for us. We extended our hours and opened on Sunday afternoon, which is something we usually don’t do.”

McVay and her staff also brought in extra merchandise to help fill the shelves of the teacher-supply store.

“We had shipments of merchandise and materials coming in every single day to prepare for the weekend,” said McVay.

During the rush on Saturday McVay had business in spurts as teachers, parents and students purchased items necessary for school both to decorate the classroom and to use during class.

At Dollar Max, however, Rose Marie Woodall, had a natural advantage over their competition – their schools supplies were already marked down.

“We have school stuff as low as $.49,” said Woodall, who manages the store. “And then, with it being a tax free weekend, you took tax off of that price. The crowd was more than we expected and we’ve sold out of a lot of things.”

Woodall was able to attract customers into her store thanks to her location. Dollar Max is located in the shopping center between the Shoe Department and Cato’s Fashions.

“A lot of people didn’t know we were here until they went to one of the other stores here and saw us,” said Woodall. “A lot of people knew we were here too and the brought people in. Word of mouth helps a lot too.”

When it came time to stock the shelves, Woodall and her staff took a reverse approach – instead of marking items off the school supply list, they used it as a guide when they needed to order merchandise.

“We tried to get things that we knew the kids would need,” said Woodall. “We went through the school supply list and then went from there to order.”

For the city of Demopolis and Marengo County, the weekend was able to bring a lot of different people and dollars into the area.

“It was just a great incentive for the city,” said Kelley Smith, President of the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce. “I know the merchants were busy this past weekend.”

The tax-free weekend is going to become a yearly happening in the state, as Alabama joins Florida, Georgia and Tennessee and a host of other states in the nation that slashes the sales tax off back to school items.