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Holiday wishes

Retailers hope tax-free weekend will lure cautious consumers

By Johnny Diaz and Taryn Luna
Globe Staff | Globe Correspondent / August 12, 2011

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Like a treasure hunter, Jessie Minnifield of Dorchester studied the watches at the J.C. Penney department store in the Hanover Mall yesterday. But she was not buying; she was scouting for deals as she prepared for this weekend’s Massachusetts sales tax holiday.

The state will suspend sales taxes on Saturday and Sunday to boost summer sales at Massachusetts retailers, but the weekend arrives amid roller coaster swings in the stock market and fears of another recession. Some shoppers said the fragile economy is prompting them to rein back on their plans for the tax holiday.

“I don’t plan on spending too much,’’ said Minnifield, 64. “I can’t afford it with this economy.’’

Retailers wondered how much shoppers would hold back this weekend.

“We were hoping to do more sales than we did last year,’’ said Barry Joseph, owner of the Chair Fair in Braintree, “but with the stock market, we will be happy to break even now.’’

Massachusetts will forgive taxes on items priced under $2,500 (with some exceptions, including tobacco, autos, and motorcycles) on Saturday and Sunday, costing the state $20.5 million in uncollected revenues, according to Massachusetts Department of Revenue estimates.

The Retailers Association of Massachusetts estimated that in-state store sales will total more than $500 million this weekend.

“We haven’t revised the projections based on what’s been happening’’ with the economy, said Bill Rennie, vice president of the trade group. “It’s unknown how the consumers will respond.’’

Yet some retailers remained optimistic, based on strong activity yesterday.

At Boston Interiors, employees were flooded with preorders, said Megan DeSanty, marketing manager for the furniture chain’s seven stores.

“They are putting in basically a wish list of what they want, but they will be back this weekend to place their order,’’ she said.

Employees at Jordan’s Furniture, based in Avon, said they sent out 1 million direct mail pieces promoting the tax holiday, ordered about $2 million worth of additional inventory, and increased staffing levels for the weekend.

Still, the retailer had no estimates on how much it would sell this weekend.

“It is difficult to predict store traffic, since customer counts depend not only on bigger issues like the economy but also on smaller ones like the weather,’’ Heather Copelas, a spokeswoman for Jordan’s, wrote in an e-mail.

Early-bird shoppers were a promising sign, said Eli Gurock, owner of Magic Beans, a children’s store in Brookline.

“People are definitely browsing for larger items, like strollers and car seats, and they tell us ‘I’m definitely coming back this weekend’ to purchase,’’ he said.

J.C. Penney increased staffing and extended the hours at its Massachusetts stores this weekend.

“We expect this weekend to be very successful,’’ Linda Goodale, district manager for Boston area stores, wrote in an e-mail.

At the Penney in Hanover, employees were unpacking signs that read “Tax Free Clothing and Footwear’’ in English and Spanish yesterday.

Shopper Mehmet Ozturk, who was in the store planning his weekend shopping strategy, said he has been saving all year for the tax holiday. He planned to buy a snowmobile, a Blu-ray player, and tires for his van.

“I know people are scared,’’ he said, “but if you are saving, it’s all about smart shopping.’’

Globe correspondent Christina Reinwald contributed to this report. Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.


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