Parents, students hit stores for back-to-school shopping

August 17, 2012|By CALEB CALHOUN |
  • Tara Ensor of Hagerstown shops for her two children for back-to-school clothes and supplies at Kmart in Hagerstown Thursday.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

In the midst of tax-free week and the flurry of back-to-school shopping, parents and students have hit area stores in search of clothes and supplies.

“We came up here to shop for school supplies because of the tax-free week,” said Berkeley Springs, W.Va., resident Sandra Howard, 34, who was shopping Thursday for her three children who are going back to school. “Back-to-school shopping is always very stressful.”

During tax-free week, there is no sales tax in the state of Maryland on clothing items and footwear that cost $100 or less. The promotion began Sunday and ends Saturday.

The week and the season have given a boost to some local businesses, especially those selling clothing and shoes. For some businesses, back-to-school could be the top shopping season of the year.

Debbie Keith, associate manager at Famous Footwear on Garland Groh Boulevard in Hagerstown, said this is the biggest retail season for that store.

“This is our Christmas,” she said. “Each year they have the tax-free week, it is a good turnout.”

Keith said most of the customers, many of them from other states, were doing back-to-school shopping.

This is one of the top three seasons for retail sales in Washington County, said according to Thomas Riford, president and CEO of Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The others are the period leading up to the year-end holidays and the period right after the holidays.

“For Hagerstown and Washington County, retail is very important,” Riford said. “The tax-free shopping is helpful if you’re buying back-to-school clothing, but it’s also helpful if you’re shopping for yourself.”

The tax-free week increases retail sales by as much as 20 percent in Maryland, Riford said.

“It’s a perfect storm for retail opportunities for Washington County,” he said. “We actually see a small bump in lodging at this time. People can come to Washington County, spend money here, leave and have wonderful memories.”

Not everybody waited for tax-free week to do back-to-school shopping.

Joyce Rowe of Boonsboro was shopping for school supplies for her grandchildren, but she said most of those purchases were made earlier in the summer.

“We really didn’t have a lot to purchase, and the tax saving is not a great deal,” she said while shopping Thursday. “We were purchasing some personal items, and we mainly just have a nice girls’ day together.”

Back-to-school shopping typically begins after July 4 and lasts through the first weekend in September, according to Michele Wills, marketing director at Valley Mall in Hagerstown.

Parents are expected to spend an average of $688.62 nationally on back-to-school products, up from $603.63, Wills said. The spending is expected to reach $30.3 billion for students from kindergarten through grade 12.

Amanda Agnew, 24, of Hedgesville, W.Va., said she began her back-to-school shopping early in August for her two daughters, one who is going into first grade and another who is going into pre-K.

“We just pick up little things at a time,” she said. “This is a lot more stressful than when I was a kid. You have to take their size into consideration when buying clothes.”

Products sold under the tax-free week umbrella have not been the only products that have had a spike in sales this week. With schools at all levels poised to go back into session, sales of electronics and other school supplies have increased at some stores.

Seth Merriman, customer specialist at Best Buy on Garland Groh Boulevard in Hagerstown, said there has been an increase in laptop sales and televisions during the week.

“It seems like lots of high school kids going into college have been coming in this week,” he said. “Mainly laptops and software it seems like are the biggest drive right now.”

Richard Rostek, 17, of Hagerstown, is going into his freshman year at Frostburg State University and was at Best Buy looking at laptops Thursday. He said shopping for college is very different than shopping for elementary, middle or high school.

“The price of books is higher, I need home supplies and I’ve never had to shop for a laptop,” he said. “It’s just a weird feeling.”

College students aren’t the only ones shopping for electronics.

Hagerstown resident Kathy Lewis, 34, was also at Best Buy looking at iPads for her daughter, Ava, who is 8 and going into third grade at Rockland Woods Elementary.

“The kids really need it now just to keep up with technology,” she said. “As kids get older, you spend a lot more on electronics.”

Maryland’s tax-free week is a result of legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2007. It was implemented in 2010.

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