Summer might officially be just a few weeks old, but malls and stores from the Keys to the Panhandle will have fall on the mind this coming weekend.
Florida's annual sales-tax holiday -- which runs Aug. 3-5 -- comes early this year, the state's response to a few school districts' decision to start classes the second week of August.
The first day of school in Manatee County isn't until Aug. 20, so parents hoping to save a few cents per dollar on clothes, shoes and school supplies will have to shop well in advance. The tax holiday, which applies to most but not all purchases, has traditionally fallen a week later.
Regardless of when it occurs, the annual back-to-school tax break is always a busy weekend for retailers. Many hold sales and in-store promotions to attract choosy deal-seekers, even strategically pricing certain goods so that they fall just under the tax-free cap. Over the three-day holiday, the state waves sales tax on clothing and shoes priced $75 and lower, and school supplies up to $15.
"Back-to-school shopping season is really the second busiest time for retailers," said John Fleming, spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation.
The Florida Retail Federation expects statewide sales growth over 2011's figures, despite a recent drop in national consumer confidence fueled by sluggish economic news. The National Retail Federation has estimated parents of K-12 students will spend $30.3 billion on back-to-school shopping
In Florida, much of that business will occur next weekend -- and the big box stores are promoting accordingly.
Fleming acknowledges that the tax savings on most minor purchases is minimal -- yet added that many businesses make a trip to the mall worthwhile with competitive price-cutting.
"What we find is there is a stimulus affect to having a tax holiday," Fleming added. "It does encourage consumers to spend a little more on items that are not tax-exempt. The state does get a little boost in tax revenue as a result."