North Carolina ended its tax-free weekend two years ago, causing business owners to miss the big boon and shoppers to miss the big savings.
Heading into that same weekend — the first full weekend of August — and with neighboring states still offering the no-free discounts, many local merchants have taken matters into their own hands.
“It has been a topic at several Downtown Business Association meetings,” said Jessica Johnson, director of marketing for the Mount Airy Visitor’s Center.
And while the association hasn’t adopted an official plan, “there’s a lot of local merchants right now that have sales,” said Jennie Lowry, a Downtown Business Association volunteer and owner of Olde Mill Music on North Main Street.
Lowry said most local businesses are participating in the informal back-to-school sales weekend in some form or another.
“I do my own tax free week,” said Melissa Johnson, owner of Poppy’s Designer Resale Boutique.
Mayberry Consignments is offering everything in the store at a 50 percent discount, said store owner Julie Teague.
“The only thing we can do is to try and make up our own sales,” said Teague.
Customers may save more this way than with the tax-free weekend.
For example, Old Mill Music is offering an extra 15 percent off on school band accessories — “which wouldn’t have been on sale anyway,” Lowry said.
“We actually have a better sale going — 50 percent off everything — than the 7 percent with the tax free weekend,” Teague said, mentioning that tax free is for specific items only, and that her sale lasts for about a month.
“It’s more of a summer clearance but it does help compensate for what we lose.”
It helps, but doesn’t completely make up for the tax-free-weekend.
“That was our biggest week of the year,” said Melissa Johnson. “You could tell a huge difference when it ended.”
“You don’t get quite the same surge,” she said.
“People take trips or plan their vacations around it,” and head to states such as South Carolina or Tennessee that still offer the tax free weekend, Melissa Johnson said. “That’s what I’ve been hearing.”
Which is something folks used to come to Mount Airy for, Jessica Johnson said, noting that while people were drawn to the city as a tourist destination, the tax free shopping was a bonus. “We get a lot of visitors anyway but that did seem like a busy weekend,” she said.
Teague relayed mixed emotions about the program.
“It’s tough on merchants to reprogram the registers and all that goes with it. But on the other side it’s worth it. It used to be a really good weekend,”she said.
People also used to go out of town to shop even while the program existed, Teague said.
“Our Fridays were huge, but as far as downtown goes it was slow that Saturday,” she said, explaining that with time to travel on Saturday, people would head to Winston-Salem or the outlets where they could do a larger volume of shopping.
Lowery said sidewalk sales last weekend that corresponded with a fashion show was good for business.
“Huge numbers of people attended,” she said.
Melissa Johnson said having the sale at Poppy’s, which she did last year too, helps.
“It’s still a good week but not the best,” she said. “Our customers appreciate that we still do it. It works out in the long run for me to pay the tax than to lose customers.”
Terri Flagg can be reached at email@example.com or 336-415-4734.