For Pittsfield resident Cindy Carney, what better time is there to plan for a snowblower purchase than on the day after a steamy, sauna-like weekend?
Carney, along with other area residents, is eagerly looking forward to the upcoming tax-free holiday weekend in Massachusetts so they can save the 6.25 percent state sales tax bite on each purchase up to $2,500. Vehicles, motorboats, restaurant meals and tobacco products are excluded.
"I need a snowblower because last Halloween weekend, I didn’t have one and waited to shovel until the end of the storm," said Carney, a dental hygienist who works in Lee.
She acknowledged the irony of considering winter-weather equipment at this time of year, but the chance to save on a major purchase is irresistible. She said her friends have been talking over their priority items now that word has gotten around that the state taxman will be on holiday this Saturday and Sunday.
The state first instituted the idea in 2004 in order to boost retail sales on what’s often a slow weekend for merchants.
Marshall Raser, president and longtime co-owner of Carr Hardware with his son, Bart, said he is keenly anticipating the weekend.
"Last year’s tax-free weekend was our biggest for any weekend at any time of the year in our history," he said. The original store opened in 1928.
Carr Hardware, with stores in North Adams, Pittsfield, Lee and Great Barrington, is offering
Raser, who started in the business on Feb. 20, 1962 -- a date he remembers with great pleasure -- said he’s not sure the upcoming weekend can match the torrid sales pace of the Aug. 13-14, 2011, event.
But he noted that his stores have been stocking snowblowers ever since June, several months earlier than usual, because of the intense demand prior to last winter.
Many customers, remembering the 100-inch avalanche of snow during the 2010-11 season, snapped up all available snowblowers last fall. Their new purchases came in handy for the pre-season, record-breaking Halloween weekend snowstorm last October, but then sat idle for most of the remaining season.
"Last year, we sold a boatload of them," Raser said. "I don’t know if we can do that again this weekend."
Other in-demand items, he noted, include generators, both regular and "whole-house," as well as power equipment and tools, lighting and plumbing fixtures.
He explained that customers can apply the savings -- totaling 12.5 percent at his stores because of the matching deal -- to each individual item up to $2,500. He called the impact of the tax-free weekend "amazing." Sunday hours this weekend have been extended, running 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at his stores.
At L.P. Adams Lumber and Building Supplies in Dalton, in its seventh generation of family ownership since it opened in 1900, proprietor Wayne Walton agreed that the sales tax break has "worked out well everywhere they’ve had it."
"Some people spend a lot. They seem to like thinking that they’re screwing the government," Walton said.
He said high-end products such as kitchen cabinets, doors and windows move particularly well as a result of the tax savings.
"It’s been really big for us," he added, noting that extra staff is being assigned and store hours on Saturday have been extended by three hours; the town’s oldest continuous family-owned retailer will be open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and closed as usual Sunday.
The state Legislature did not approve the upcoming tax-free weekend until last Tuesday, the final day of its formal session. The state revenue loss is expected to total around $20 million.
"The sales tax holiday helps all of our members, but for those which cater to back to school, it kicks off the season earlier and stronger," said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. "That means more impulse buys and a much more successful season."
Information from the Boston Globe was included in this report.
If you shop ...
What, when: Annual Massachusetts sales tax-free weekend, this Saturday and Sunday.
Where: All retailers and merchandise, except restaurant meals, gas, vehicles, motor boats, tobacco products and rentals. (There is no state sales tax on clothing unless the cost exceeds $175. Should you buy an item of clothing exceeding the $2,500 ceiling, you will only be taxed on the cost of the item, minus $175.)
How: Each separate purchase up to $2,500 is exempt from the state sales tax, resulting in a 6.25 percent discount. Some merchants are matching the discount.
Why: The annual tax-free holiday, initiated in 2004 but skipped in 2009, is designed to aid businesses and customers on a normally slow weekend for retailers.
Source: Mass. Department of Revenue (www.mass.gov/dor)