Stock­ing up

Stores pre­pare for back-to-school shop­pers on tax-free days.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - ROB­BIE NEISWANGER

The back-to-school aisles at a Wal-Mart Su­per­center in Rogers on Pleas­ant Cross­ing Boule­vard were buzzing with ac­tiv­ity Thurs­day morn­ing in prepa­ra­tion for a busy week­end.

Wal-Mart work­ers stocked shelves with school sup­ply sta­ples like pen­cils, pa­per, erasers and note­books. An­other em­ployee stood on a me­chan­i­cal lift, ad­just­ing a sign that over­looked the area as a hand­ful of cus­tomers hold­ing school sup­ply lists browsed the aisles with their chil­dren.

“We ex­pect this week­end to be one of our big­gest week­ends,” store man­ager Tina Bud­naitis said. “It should be equal to a Black Fri­day.”

The back-to-school shop­ping sea­son — an im­por­tant pe­riod in re­tail — is in full swing in stores across the coun­try. But Wal-Mart and

other re­tail­ers in Arkansas are pre­par­ing for the busiest two­day stretch of the sea­son as the state holds its an­nual sales tax hol­i­day be­gin­ning to­day.

Arkansas has carved out 48 hours in which state and lo­cal sales taxes will not be col­lected on cer­tain items. The tax-free event — which be­gan at 12:01 a.m. this morn­ing and ends at 11:59 p.m. Sun­day — is ex­pected to lure larger num­bers of shop­pers to stores.

“It’s def­i­nitely one of the busiest times of the year for our mer­chants,” said Linda Hin­ton, gen­eral man­ager of The Prom­e­nade at Chenal in Lit­tle Rock. “We ex­pect them to be full, for all of the park­ing spa­ces to be full, for all of the res­tau­rants to be cater­ing to folks. … I ex­pect the whole week­end to be very busy.”

Over­all, back-to-school spend­ing will gen­er­ate a pro­jected $83.6 bil­lion in U.S. sales this year, ac­cord­ing to data from the Na­tional Re­tail Fed­er­a­tion and Pros­per In­sights and An­a­lyt­ics. The re­tail trade group said pro­jected sales are a 10 per­cent in­crease from the same pe­riod a year ago as con­sumer con­fi­dence grows.

Fam­i­lies with chil­dren in kin­der­garten through 12th grade are ex­pected to spend $29.5 bil­lion, which would be the sec­ond high­est level on record and an av­er­age of $687.72 per fam­ily. Col­lege spend­ing is es­ti­mated to reach a record level of $54.1 bil­lion and an av­er­age of $969.88 per stu­dent.

“Fam­i­lies are now in a state of mind where they feel a lot more con­fi­dent about the econ­omy,” Na­tional Re­tail Fed­er­a­tion Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Matthew Shay said in a state­ment. “With stronger em­ploy­ment lev­els and a con­tin­ued in­crease in wages, con­sumers are spend­ing more and we are op­ti­mistic that they will con­tinue to do so through­out the rest of the year.”

An in­creas­ing num­ber of shop­pers are tack­ling their back-to-school lists ear­lier to avoid crowds or spread out their spend­ing, ac­cord­ing to Na­tional Re­tail Fed­er­a­tion data. But re­tail­ers be­lieve traf­fic and sales should in­crease across Arkansas this week­end as cus­tomers take ad­van­tage of sales tax sav­ings and other dis­counts on items such as cloth­ing, shoes and school sup­plies.

Shop­pers will not have to pay taxes on clothes un­der $100 per item, ac­ces­sories un­der $50, school sup­plies, school art sup­plies and school in­struc­tional ma­te­ri­als.

“Tax free week­ends are al­ways a great traf­fic driver for us so we don’t ex­pect this week­end to be any less,” said Josh Tisdale, gen­eral man­ager of the J.C. Pen­ney store at Shack­le­ford Cross­ing in Lit­tle Rock. “As we kick off the sec­ond half of the year this is one of our pre­miere events out­side of hol­i­day. So it’s re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant that we’re tak­ing care of our cus­tomers by putting up some great deals, some great mer­chan­dise as they’re get­ting ready for send­ing their kids back to school.”

Rogers res­i­dent Kelly Mil­brodt and her 12-yearold daugh­ter, Marissa, were among the cus­tomers get­ting an early start as they looked for school sup­plies at Wal-Mart on Thurs­day morn­ing.

Mil­brodt said she doesn’t typ­i­cally be­gin check­ing items off her daugh­ter’s back-toschool list un­til Au­gust. So she still has shop­ping to do and plans to take ad­van­tage of the tax-free sav­ings this week­end. Mil­brodt added most of her at­ten­tion dur­ing the 48-hour pe­riod will be on cloth­ing.

“We’ll try to go early to beat the crowds,” Mil­brodt said.

On­line shop­ping con­tin­ues to grow in pop­u­lar­ity through­out the U.S., which has led to store clos­ings and sag­ging sales at most tra­di­tional brick-and­mor­tar re­tail­ers this year. But back-to-school shop­ping largely re­mains an in-store event. Nearly three times as many con­sumers sur­veyed by New York-based con­sult­ing firm Deloitte said they plan to do their back-to-school spend­ing in stores.

Bud­naitis, the Wal-Mart man­ager in Rogers, said her store will be staffed much like it would on Black Fri­day in an­tic­i­pa­tion of large num­bers this week­end. Wal-Mart also is of­fer­ing other con­ve­nient op­tions for cus­tomers who don’t want to fight the crowds with an ex­panded list of items that are avail­able to or­der on­line for store pickup or home de­liv­ery. The re­tailer also has in­te­grated school lists with its web­site, giv­ing cus­tomers the abil­ity to get ev­ery­thing with one click.

Mean­while, sev­eral malls will hold pro­mo­tional events to at­tract shop­pers. A school sup­ply give­away will be held to­day at Cen­tral Mall in Fort Smith, while The Prom­e­nade at Chenal has part­nered with Good­will to host a back-toschool do­na­tion drive. Mean­while, The Out­lets of Lit­tle Rock will have food trucks and en­ter­tain­ment through­out taxfree week­end.

“This is about the time of year we’re not only kick­ing off back-to-school and that big sales time, but also get­ting geared up for hol­i­day,” said Hin­ton, The Prom­e­nade at Chenal’s gen­eral man­ager. “So this whole Au­gust through the end of the year we ex­pect to be pretty busy.

“I think it changes the mood for the mer­chants them­selves … You can tell they’re start­ing to get ex­cited about year-end and all of the sales ac­tiv­i­ties that re­ally kind of kick off around this time of year.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN GOFF

An­drew Kemp, 9, a fifth-grader at Janie Darr El­e­men­tary in Rogers, shops for school sup­plies this week with his mother, Holly Kemp, and sis­ter Noelle, 2, at the Wal-Mart Su­per­center on Pleas­ant Cross­ing Boule­vard in Rogers.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN GOFF

Em­ployee Estela Martinez stocks school sup­plies this week at the Wal-Mart Su­per­center on Pleas­ant Cross­ing Boule­vard in Rogers.

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