SALISBURY — This weekend marks the last “Black Friday” for back-to-school shopping.
The state will end the popular sales tax holiday after this year’s event, part of a major tax reform measure Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law last week.
The tax holiday begins at 12:01 a.m. Friday and ends at 11:59 p.m. Sunday. Stores cannot opt out, and the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce is encouraging people to shop at local businesses with a new Buy Local initiative.
Tax-exempt items include many back-to-school supplies, clothing, shoes and computers. The N.C. Department of Revenue has published a list of items that are tax-free this weekend.
Around for more than a decade, the tax-free weekend has been eliminated starting in 2014, as well as the annual tax holiday for Energy Star-rated appliances.
Deal Safrit, who used to run the Literary Bookpost in downtown Salisbury, said he initially thought the sales tax holiday was a bad idea because he didn’t think the state could afford to give up the tax revenue, and some legitimate items didn’t qualify for tax exemption, while others did.
“However, with the loss of the tax holiday, now I see it as just one more way to place a heavier tax on the middle and lower class,” Safrit said.
Salisbury resident Vicki Nichols said the state should not have cut the tax holiday.
“This is the weekend some parents look forward to all year so it’s a little cheaper for the school clothes,” Nichols said.
Others were not fans of the event. Billy Evans said he thought some stores raised prices before the tax-exempt weekend so shoppers didn’t really save money, and William Moss said it wasn’t worth the hassle to save a few dollars.
“Good riddance,” Moss said.
Local retailers said while the sales tax holiday makes for a busy, successful weekend, they don’t anticipate losing money next year when the state eliminates it. People have to buy school supplies regardless, said Deon Lester, manager at Magic Mart, where employees were busy Tuesday preparing for this weekend’s crowds.
“They’ve gotta have it,” Lester said. “They’ll just buy it closer to when school starts.”
School uniforms are the biggest seller at Magic Mart on the tax holiday, he said, followed by school supplies.
Office Depot manager George Barnett said eliminating the holiday presents a challenge for his store, but good customer service will keep people coming back next year.
Barnett said he expects a good crowd this weekend, especially since the new Big Lots and Panera Bread have boosted traffic for retailers on East Innes Street.
Technology items will be the best sellers at Office Depot, Barnett predicted.
Computers and tablets of $3,500 or less qualify for the sales tax holiday, as well as computer supplies of $250 or less. Basic eReaders that don’t provide Internet access do not qualify, but an eReader with enhanced functions like Internet access and e-mail is considered a computer for the sales tax holiday.
Clothing, shoes and school supplies of $100 or less, school supplies of $300 or less and sports and recreational equipment of $50 or less also qualify.
The Rowan County chamber has a new Buy Local initiative and a tag line that reads, “It’s everybody’s business.”
“And this is not about bashing the big guys,” Chairwoman Cindy Hart said. “… Large retailers like Walmart and Office Depot provide economic viability that is essential to our community’s future prosperity.”
Everybody in business in Rowan County is a stakeholder in what happens to the community, Hart said.
“Everybody who lives, works and buys in the community shares that responsibility with the knowledge that every dollar we each spend here is an investment in the shared provision of things like education, municipal services, arts programs, parks, playgrounds, and jobs,” Hart said. “For every dollar spent locally, 63 cents stays in the community with local jobs and investments.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.