Berkshire retailers look forward to upcoming tax holiday


PITTSFIELD -- Bart Raser looks forward to the state's annual sales tax holiday every year.

"It's a huge day," said Raser, the owner of Carr Hardware, the Pittsfield-based hardware store chain with several locations across the county. "Bigger than Christmas."

Like Raser, merchants across the Berkshires are gearing up for expanded sales and heavier foot traffic this weekend.

State lawmakers approved the annual state sales tax holiday as part of an economic development bill at the end of July. But as of Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Deval Patrick still hadn't signed off on the plan. He is expected to approve the bill on Wednesday afternoon.

One local merchant said on Tuesday that he wasn't aware the sales tax holiday hadn't officially been approved.

"I already thought that it was a done deal the way everybody's advertising about it," said Steven Valenti, the owner of Steven Valenti's Clothing for Men in Pittsfield. "I'm surprised about that.

"Am I concerned?" he said. "A lot of people are kind of banking on it to happen waiting to make a major purchase."

Massachusetts has had a sales tax holiday every year but one since 2004. The exception occurred in 2009 when the state sales tax was raised to 6.25 percent.

If this weekend's event does occur, shoppers won't be assessed state sales tax on most of the items that they purchase in Massachusetts under $2,500.

There are some exceptions. Cars, motorcycles, motorboats, meals, cellphone plans and tobacco products will not be exempt from state sales tax this weekend, along with any single item that exceeds the $2,500 threshold.

However, those who purchase several items under $2,500 but whose total bill exceeds that amount will also be exempt from paying state sales tax. Online sales are also exempt.

Several businesses take advantage of the sales tax holiday by cutting prices on items that either match or surpass the percentage that shoppers will save by forgoing the state sales tax.

The Premium Outlets in Lee is offering discounts of 25 to 65 percent on back-to-school supplies this weekend. Carr Hardware is offering an additional 6.25 percent discount on top of what consumers will already save.

Those types of discounts are one reason why Carr Hardware sells big ticket items like snowblowers and grills during the state's annual sales tax holiday.

"The discounts available on big ticket items are not that competitive," Raser said. "For a Weber grill you'll never pay less than the minimum price at a big box store. To be able to save six and a half percent and another six and a half percent is a big deal on a $600 or $700 item."

June Roy Martin, the interim president and CEO of the Berkshire County Chamber of Commerce, said the organization's membership also sees a boost during the state's annual sales tax holiday. The chamber has around 1,000 members, and 80 percent are considered to be small businesses.

"From the point of view of the businesses providing the product, they're going to see a benefit because (consumers) have an increased sales incentive like this," she said. "People will wait for it and buy it when it goes down so they don't have to pay the sales tax.

Consumers can take advantage of the sales tax holiday by purchasing items like back to school supplies or furniture, she said.

Valenti also expects a bump in business this weekend.

"We get a little bit of a hit in our suit department," he said. "Last year on that Saturday we sold about 10 suits which was about twice as much as we do on a (regular) Saturday."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:

(413) 496-6224


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