BRADENTON — Becky Carmichael started her shopping at 10 a.m. Friday.
The Bradenton resident hit the Prime Outlets-Ellenton before moving onto JCPenney, Sears and Walmart.
With the Florida sales tax holiday limited to three days, Carmichael said she has little time to waste as she tries to save on back-to-school purchases for her four granddaughters.
“It’s been rushed,” said Carmichael, as she browsed bookbags, clothes and shoes at Sears for her family. “Thank goodness I was able to come (Friday). Saturday and Sunday it’s going to be a zoo in here.”
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After a two-year hiatus, the tax-free holiday on back-to-school purchases such as clothes, shoes, books and school supplies priced at $50 or less returned, but with a much shorter stay.
The tax break has lasted 10 days in the past, giving consumers two weekends to save. But this year it started Friday and ends Sunday.
Retailers and shoppers, however, seemed happy that they at least have the weekend after the Legislature eliminated the tax break two years ago due to a dwindling state budget.
“I’m glad that it’s back and there’s sales to go along with it,” said Lisa Jerowski. “I was upset when they stopped it. The little bit of money you’re able to save, especially with the economy being so bad, every little penny helps.”
Jerowski brought her daughters — Katelyn, 16, and Ashlin, 13 — to JCPenney at DeSoto Square mall to find jeans for the new school year.
“We’re gonna hurry up and get it all done in the next three days,” Jerowski said. “I’m hoping to save at least a good $100.”
Retailers Friday and throughout the weekend are doing everything they can to compete with one another and get consumers to spend.
Bealls is issuing coupon books with special school sales and advertised an additional 15 percent off for Florida residents. JCPenney and Sears are running on extended hours, and DeSoto Square timed the grand opening of its arcade center, Saturn 5, for this weekend.
A report prepared for the Florida Retail Federation estimated Florida lost out on $1.7 billion in economic activity as a result of eliminating the tax break in 2009. The state also cut the sales tax exemption in 2008.
“Retail stores love the sales tax holiday because it pulls people into the stores,” said Rick McAllister, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Retail Federation.
That includes those shopping for themselves like Lisa Rosser, who browsed the Bealls Department store in the Creekwood Crossing shopping plaza for work clothes.
“I enjoy having the (Florida resident) coupon to go along with the tax-free savings,” Rosser said.
Charlene Pursell, store manager of the Bealls at Creekwood, said the tax-free holiday typically makes consumers willing to spend on more than just school purchases.
“In years past the tax-free holiday has been like Christmas in July,” Pursell said. “It seems to bring more people into the stores and really does help to give you a nice summer boost.”
JCPenney opened at 7 a.m. Friday, as it will today and Sunday.
“With the three days it will cause our sales peak to be sharper,” said store Manager Greg Spann said. “We’re expecting a lot more traffic this weekend and expecting a much heavier volume of shoppers than when it’s been over two weekends.”
At Prime Outlets-Ellenton, General Manager Bill Mann said the mall’s 24,000-space parking lot was near capacity Friday afternoon.
“It’s going extremely well so far,” Mann said. “I figure it’s going to be a very, very good and busy weekend for everyone.”