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Merchants, Wise have high hopes for tax-free event

No slaes tax will be charged for most back-to-school items bought in West Virginia this weekend

No slaes tax will be charged for most back-to-school items bought in West Virginia this weekend

August 02, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Gov. Bob Wise played pitchman at Martinsburg Mall Wednesday, hawking the state's "Back to School" sales tax exemption weekend, which begins today.

Through Sunday, the state's 6 percent sales tax will be waived for each article of clothing or school supply under $100.

With an auctioneer's energy, Wise held up item after item - a notebook, a binder, a backpack, a package of markers, a shirt. He encouraged people to buy, buy, buy.

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He even came prepared with a rhyming slogan: "Drive in today. Don't delay. Drive it away. Enjoy our sales-tax holiday."

"Let's hold off for another day or two. Then, I want to see this mall flooded," he urged, hoping for Marylanders, Pennsylvanians and Virginians, too.

This is the first time West Virginia has lifted the sales tax. Other states do it, sometimes more than once a year.

Del. John Overington, R-Berkeley, who watched Wise's spiel, said the House of Delegates approved a $1,000-per-item exemption limit.

However, the Senate lowered the amount and the House went along. "We didn't want to take a chance on losing the bill altogether," Overington said.

Wise said a rough prediction of the anticipated lost tax revenue is $1 million, which could be offset if businesses pay higher taxes on increased profits.

He said he'd like a higher exemption ceiling so West Virginians can buy sales-tax-free computers as the school year approaches.

West Virginia's ratio of computers per classroom is high, but its ratio of computers at home is one of the nation's lowest, Wise said.

Two store managers at the mall expected a strong surge in business this weekend.

"I absolutely support it," said Ken Castle, general manager of The Bon-Ton.

Customers in New York pack Bon-Ton stores for sales-tax exemptions, creating "an increase in traffic, as well as an increase in volume ...," Castle said. "It's really an outstanding situation, really helpful."

Kristy Acosta, the acting store manager at Cato, a women's clothing store, said customers were buzzing about the weekend.

"I'm excited. This is going to bring in some business," she said.

Acosta said she alerted customers the last two months because many didn't know. Some decided to wait until this weekend to buy things, she said.

While Wise spoke, there was no notice elsewhere in the mall about the tax exemptions, other than at Foot Locker, which had a floor sign, and Cato, which had a sign in the window.

In contrast, the Wal-Mart store next to the mall had sales-tax exemption signs plastered throughout the store.

Jeff Garland, the mall's marketing director, said the mall would have signs up by today.

One assistant store manager said she thought the mall told stores not to put signs up, but Garland said it's the stores' choice.

The Bon-Ton's customers already knew because "it's been in the newspaper quite a bit," Castle said.

Acosta was eager to enjoy the weekend as a consumer, too. She's taking her daughters, ages 7 and 10, shopping.

She guessed that she'll spend about $600 on clothing for her girls, not including shoes or school supplies.

A customer who paid $200.87 for a pair of shoes, a shirt, a pair of pants, a pair of shorts, T-shirts and socks would not have to pay an extra $12.05 in sales tax this weekend, according to a sample shopping trip outlined by the state.

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