Computers, clothes, bargains hot on tax-free holiday

The tax-free holiday drew Carolinas shoppers today, from early morning lines outside Charlotte's Apple Store to bargain hunters at big discounters and smaller shops.

Tammy Tritt, 30, of York, S.C., took the day off to take advantage of the sales tax holiday. She bought back-to-school clothes at a Target store on Dave Lyle Boulevard in Rock Hill for her six-year-old son, Lander, and her five-year-old nephew, Aiden Mobley. She spent $51.22 on jeans and shirts, then headed for Shoe Carnival to boost her tax savings with a $5 coupon.

“With the cost of gas and this economy, you've got to save where you can," said Tritt, who works for a Rock Hill doctor's office. “Hopefully, stores won't raise prices just before the weekend.”

Today marks the start of the Carolinas three-day, tax-free shopping holiday, which also kicks off the back-to-school shopping season. Clothing, computers, notebooks and other supplies are exempt from sales tax on purchases made through Sunday. That's a savings of 7.25 percent in Mecklenburg County and slightly less in surrounding counties. In South Carolina, the sales tax is 7 percent in York, Lancaster and Chester counties.

"I'm definitely motivated to shop more during the tax holiday," said Katie Garbark, 36, of Mint Hill, after loading up on school supplies late this morning at an Indian Trail Wal-Mart. "The savings aren't big, but every bit helps, and for families that's important."

Evidence of a busy shopping day showed by mid-day, with hangers askew and clothes stuffed on the wrong racks. In a checkout line at Concord Mills, a girl with blond pigtails tugged at her mothers jeans and pointed to a rack of totes. The young mother, holding a bundle of clothes, rolled her eyes. The girl raced over and grabbed a hot pink tote.

In Books a Million, Colten Burris, 16, was looking for school books.

``My parents are paying for shoes, but I worked this summer mowing lawns,” he said. “That's how I'm paying for these books.”

At Eastland Mall, secretary Alexandria Perez shopped with her two sons, ages 12 and 14. Perez said she expected to spend about the same on clothes as last year, despite the budget pinch of high gas prices.

"You can buy a lot more stuff (at Eastland) than you can at other places," Perez said. "The cost is not too bad."

Some savvy shoppers sought sale bargains in addition to the tax break.

Sheila Lail of Hickory scored with a 30-percent-off sale at Shoe Carnival in Hickory. Her son Chris, a rising sophomore at Appalachian State University, expected the tax deal would save $30 to $50 as he stocked up on pencils, paper and USB drives for his computer.

Lines formed before doors opened at Carolinas stores.

"You can tell with the shoppers that they put off back-to-school shopping until the sales tax holiday gets here," said Brad Kemper, a manager with the Target store on Dave Lyle Boulevard in Rock Hill, S.C. He said about ten people were waiting when the store opened at 8 a.m.

By that time, about 100 people were waiting at the Apple Store at Charlotte's SouthPark Mall. Karen Molitor was near the front, shopping with her 18-year-old daughter Brook, soon to start classes at New York University. They planned to spend at least $2,500 on a MacBook laptop and accessories – and save more than $180 in sales tax.

Marvin Sigal, a biology professor at Gaston College, stopped by the Apple Store earlier this week to talk with employees about choosing a computer. He waited until today to make the purchase before heading to the beach with his son and daughter.

“Wouldn't you like to save $200 in taxes?” he said “That's dinner for me and my kids for at least two or three nights at the beach.”

About an hour after opening, store employees announced they had people available to help shoppers interested in the new 3G iPhone, which has drawn long lines of buyers. Today, no one moved out of line.

“Wow,” an employee said. “We have no iPhone buyers.”

iPhones and iPods don't qualify for tax-free status.

Customers of Misty York's Pout Couture children's clothing shop also planned ahead.

"A lot of people put holds on things Wednesday and Thursday so they could buy them today," said York, who owns the shop in downtown Cornelius.

Staff writers Melissa Caron, Vanessa Willis, Kevin Cary, Dan Huntley, Hannah Mitchell and Nichole M. Bell, and special correspondent Stacey Hunter contributed.

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