Tuesday August 7, 2012

For Pittsfield resident Cindy Carney, what better time is there to plan for a snowblower purchase than on the day after a steamy, sauna-like weekend?

Carney, and other area residents, are looking forward eagerly to the upcoming tax-free holiday weekend in Massachusetts so they can save the 6.25 percent state sales tax bite on each purchase up to $2,500. Vehicles, motorboats, restaurant meals and tobacco products are excluded.

"I need a snowblower because last Halloween weekend, I didn't have one and waited to shovel until the end of the storm," said Carney, a dental hygienist who works in Lee.

She acknowledged the irony of considering winter-weather equipment at this time of year, but the chance to save on a major purchase is irresistible. She said her friends have been talking over their priority items now that word has gotten around that the state taxman will be on holiday this Saturday and Sunday.

The state first instituted the idea in 2004 in order to boost retail sales on what's often a slow weekend for merchants.

Marshall Raser, president and longtime co-owner of Carr Hardware with his son, Bart, told The Eagle he is keenly anticipating the weekend.

"Last year's tax-free weekend was our biggest for any weekend at any time of the year in our history," he said. The original store opened in 1928.

Carr Hardware, with stores in Pittsfield, North Adams, Lee and Great Barrington, is offering a double dip, matching the savings on the state tax with its own 6.


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25 percent discount on all merchandise except sale items.

Raser, who started in the business on Feb. 20, 1962 -- a date he remembers with great pleasure -- said that he's not sure the upcoming weekend can match the torrid sales pace of the Aug. 13-14, 2011, event.

But he noted that his stores have been stocking snowblowers ever since June, several months earlier than usual, because of the intense demand prior to last winter.

Many customers, remembering the 100-inch avalanche of snow during the 2010-11 season, snapped up all available snowblowers last fall. Their new purchases came in especially handy for the pre-season, record-breaking Halloween weekend snowstorm last October, but then sat idle for most of the remaining season.

"Last year, we sold a boatload of them," said Raser. "I don't know if we can do that again this weekend."

Other in-demand items, he noted, include generators, both regular and "whole-house," as well as power equipment and tools, lighting and plumbing fixtures.

He explained that customers can apply the savings -- totaling 12.5 percent at his stores because of the matching deal -- to each individual item up to $2,500. He called the impact of the tax-free weekend "amazing." Sunday hours this weekend have been extended, running 9 to 5, at his stores.

At L.P. Adams Lumber and Building Supplies in Dalton, in its seventh generation of family ownership since it opened in 1900, proprietor Wayne Walton agreed that the sales tax break has "worked out well everywhere they've had it. Some people spend a lot, they seem to like thinking that they're screwing the government."

He said high-end products such as kitchen cabinets, doors and windows move particularly well as a result of the tax savings.

"It's been really big for us," he added, noting that extra staff is being assigned and store hours on Saturday have been extended by three hours; the town's oldest continuous family-owned retailer will be open from 7 to 4, and closed as usual on Sunday.

In Lee, Henry's Electric co-owner John LePrevost said "a fair number of people have been asking" about the tax-free weekend, but added that he wished the state had announced the dates earlier so customers could plan ahead.

Nevertheless, he's anticipating a surge of business. The store, closed on Sundays, will extend its Saturday hours, open from 8:30 to 4.

"It's all across the board in terms of what people are looking for," he said, reporting that customers have been checking out the merchandise such as outdoor grills, air conditioners, vacuum cleaners and refrigerators.

Last year, he noted, 70 percent of the store's entire month of August sales took place on the tax-free weekend, notching up a 15 to 20 percent gain compared to an incentive-free summer month.

The state Legislature did not approve the upcoming tax-free weekend until last Tuesday, the final day of its formal session. The state revenue loss is expected to total around $20 million.

"The sales tax holiday helps all of our members, but for those which cater to back to school, it kicks off the season earlier and stronger," said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. "That means more impulse buys, and a much more successful season."

Information from the Boston Globe was included in this report.

To reach Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.