No tax holiday, but local businesses may organize their own

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PITTSFIELD — Scott Kirchner compares it to the holiday season; Tom Rich to Christmas.

"When I tell you it's the biggest weekend of the year, it is," said Marshall Raser, who owns Carr Hardware.

These three Pittsfield merchants are referring to the state's annual no-tax free weekend, which has taken place each summer since 2009. But it won't be taking place this summer.

Legislators recently nixed the idea of holding a weekend this summer when consumers receive a break from the state's 6.25 percent sales tax, and area merchants who expected a boost say they are scrambling to adjust. Tax-free weekend in Massachusetts had been scheduled to take place this year Aug. 20-21.

"It makes it really challenging," said Kirchner, who co-owns Mad Macs, the county's only authorized retail dealer of Apple products, which has stores in Pittsfield and Williamstown. "We expected it the last five or six years. We kind of counted on that revenue."

In Pittsfield, there are signs that businesses may hold their own promotions on the days that this year's tax free weekend was supposed to take place.

Downtown Pittsfield Inc., which has been the primary advocate for downtown Pittsfield since 1983, is exploring the idea.

"We don't have anything set in stone at all at this point," said DPI's Executive Director Kristine Hurley. "Right now, I'm just gathering information on some of the businesses it may have a direct impact on.

"It will definitely have a negative impact on some of our businesses that look forward to tax free weekend," she said.

The nonprofit group has 208 members.

Paul Rich & Sons Home Furnishings on North Street is already going ahead with its own promotion that weekend, owner Tom Rich said.

"We're going to have an event that gives customers a greater savings than tax free weekend," he said. "We're giving a discount out of our own pocket.

"It will certainly be smaller margins for us," he said. "But it will keep the tax free idea alive. I certainly hope it will return next year."

The timing of this year's announcement, coming roughly a month before the sales tax holiday was supposed to take place, also caught retailers off guard.

When tax collections fell short of fiscal 2016 projections, lawmakers in June began to lower their expectations for fiscal 2017 by $750 million. That's when the holiday appeared to fall out of favor with state legislators, according to the State House New Service.

"When you're talking about the shortfall we're in, we considered to add another $26 million to that shortfall just doesn't make a lot of sense," House Speaker Robert DeLeo told the News Service. "It's always at least been my position that it depends strongly on the economic situation at the time. The economic situation this time call that we don't have it."

"I understand that they understand that we need to conserve because the market never really corrected itself," Kirchner said. "But what I think is important is that people are spending money."

By the time legislators decided to call off the tax free weekend, many businesses, including Carr Hardware, had already stocked up on additional merchandise.

"The sad part of it is if they canceled it earlier we wouldn't have purchased so much," Raser said. "But we purchased large quantities (of items) that we usually sell well.

"It's a big disappointment," Raser said. "Our politicians should have thought ahead. If they wanted to do that they should have done it earlier."

Tax free weekends are when consumers normally purchase big ticket items like gas grills or expensive power tools, Raser said.

"When we started years ago, we were not prepared for that kind of volume, but now we depend on it," Raser said. "The first year we sold 80 snowblowers in August. In August."

Kirchner said tax free weekend also helps small retailers keep pace with the competition they face on a daily basis.

"This is the time of year when small businesses can level the playing field against the big boxes and the online retailers as well," Kirchner said. "It was the one day of the year when we'd actually have people waiting for us."

"We always look forward to it," said Rick Stohr, who owns R.J. Stohr Jewelers on North Street. Not having tax free weekend this year will hurt his store's the bottom line, he said.

"I would like to think that it won't, but it probably will," Stohr said. "It's just another obstacle to climb, I guess.

Said Rich: "We're going to make the best of it."


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