Back-to-school shoppers hit Manatee County businesses during tax-free weekend

Colin Weaver got new football cleats for $60, marked down from $75. Christian Gilleard bought white Nike slides — which he put on immediately after purchasing them — for $19.99 instead of the original $25 price tag. And Ethan Wilson got a sweet blue polo from PacSun.

And none of them paid sales tax.

The three incoming Manatee County juniors hit the Ellenton Premium Outlets on Friday, the first day of Florida’s three-day sales tax holiday, to score deals before returning to school on Aug. 10. With school starting in just a few days, many shoppers out Friday had already done the bulk of their back-to-school shopping and were using the tax free weekend to pick up anything they had forgotten.

“I’m kind of just finishing up today,” said Englewood resident Cynthia Jones, carrying OshKosh B’gosh bags full of clothing for her two daughters, age seven and nine. Her children don’t start until Aug. 22, but Jones said she began her shopping earlier than the tax-free weekend. She estimates between school clothes and school supplies, she spends about $600.

Kim Asztalos, shopping with her daughter Sarah, said she estimates she’ll spend between $500 and $900 on school clothes and supplies this year. The family recently moved to Florida from Indiana and Sarah needs a lot of clothes to get through the warm Florida winters. Sarah starts as a sophomore at Braden River High School on Wednesday.

“I don’t have hardly anything right now,” Sarah said, adding she wanted clothes that were school appropriate but would also keep her cool.

Kim Asztalos said they planned to buy outfits for the first three days of school then do another shopping trip the first weekend.

Shoppers probably picked up back-to-school shopping in late July as opposed to early August this year because of the pushed-up start date for many school districts in the area, said Sarah Ozgun, the director of marketing and business development for the outlets. Regardless, the outlets are operating under extended hours on Friday and Saturday to help shoppers make the most of their trip.

“If you come at 9 Saturday, you’ll ease into the parking lot,” Ozgun said, also advising that shoppers map out what they need to buy before heading out.

Over at the Bealls on Manatee Avenue, incoming Lakewood Ranch High School senior Katie Stincer was looking to transition from summer tank tops to some more “classy” dress tops.

“Bealls has a very different selection,” Stincer said. “I don’t have to go everywhere to find the name brands.”

Stincer, who works at Publix and buys most of her clothes herself, said it’s important to look for deals since she’s footing the bill.

Jean Manning, who was shopping for two of her four grandchildren at Bealls on Friday, also said she looked out for deals while shopping. She started back-to-school shopping in mid-summer because “we can get picky,” and was hoping to finish up with 12-year-old Danielle Warren and 8-year-old Jayden Adams.

“I like skinny jeans,” Danielle said. Jayden is a fan of Nike.

Store manager Tracy Porter said Friday morning had been a little quiet, which was expected, and that crowds would pick up Friday afternoon and through the weekend.

“It’s going to be absolutely huge,” she said.

Kim Dominguez, marketing and sponsorship director at the Mall at University Town Center, echoed Porter’s thoughts, but she also said the Mall at UTC has been busy with back-to-school shoppers for the past three weeks.

“We have had a banner up for a couple of weeks because school is starting so much earlier this year than in the past,” Dominguez said. “We’ve seen a tremendous amount of people shopping and we feel this weekend is going to be huge for our retailers.”

The back-to-school scene at Best Buy was quieter this year than last, likely because computers and computer-related accessories aren’t included in tax-free shopping this year. Jon Elliott, general manager of the 14th Street Bradenton store, said parents often shop after they get off work in the evenings. And though computers aren’t included in tax-free shopping, Elliott said customers, particularly college students, are still taking advantage of the store’s back-to-school sales.

“Saving an extra $150 on a Mac because you registered as a college student through Best Buy, that’s a great promotion,” Elliott said. “And there’s a lot of good options there for a lot of different needs.”

At Staples on Manatee Avenue, parents and grandparents were taking advantage of back-to-school deals like 17 cent folders and notebooks. Troy Tate, general manager at Staples, said two-pocket folders, one-subject notebooks, composition notebooks and backpacks sell well every year during back-to-school season.

Debi Geiger was shopping for her four grandchildren who go to school in Tampa at charter school Learning Gate Community School. Because she was shopping for children between 6 years old and 12 years old the new computer restriction didn’t affect her.

“They don’t need computers,” Geiger said. “But we do the tax free because it’s cheaper, you know, it does save money.”

And with the tax-free holiday so close to back to school, Geiger was feeling the pressure.

“This year, they start school next week, and all of a sudden tax free is right before, so we have to do it now,” she said. “I’m just doing it as quick as I can. It’s like if you can’t find something, you gotta find it. You don’t have another week.”

Meghin Delaney: 941-745-7081, @MeghinDelaney

Janelle O’Dea: 941-745-7095, @jayohday

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