A $240 lamp, a $2,500 refrigerator and a 12-pack of Harpoon Ale were but some of the purchases made yesterday around the area; each of them were a little cheaper than usual, thanks to the state's sales tax-free holiday weekend.
The lamp was sold by Diane Monroe of Valerie's Gallery in Newburyport, who said it was clear the customer had waited until the tax-free holiday before making the purchase.
Another customer came in during the week to reserve a $350 wood block print of a northern right whale with the intention of buying over the weekend, she said.
"I think it's terrific, professionally and personally," Monroe said of the holiday.
The state has been offering tax-free holidays sporadically for the last several years as a way of temporarily boosting the bottom line for businesses, especially those which are close to tax-free New Hampshire. The sales tax exemptions were in effect only for merchandise up to $2,500 and did not include motorcycles, cars, boats or tobacco products.
The state did not offer a tax-free holiday last year, as the country was suffering through the worst recession since the Great Depression. Whether there would be a tax-free weekend this year was left in doubt until only recently. After weeks of deliberation, the Legislature approved the holiday shortly before the end of its session in late July.
The refrigerator was purchased at Richards Appliance in Salisbury, where owner Bill Richard said customers were picking out refrigerators and asking him to hold them until the weekend. Customers were spending right up to the $2,500 sales tax-free limit, Richard said.
"That's where the refrigerator come in, because it's the biggest savings," Richard said.
Other hot sellers this weekend were washers and dryers.
Asked whether he'd like to see the state continue to offer tax-free weekends, Richard said it made sense to make them an annual event.
"It gives them [consumers] a reason to buy in Massachusetts," Richard said.
On the flip side, Richard said it made less sense to buy goods in New Hampshire, even though the Granite State offers tax-free shopping 365 days a year. Consumers might benefit in the short term but in the long term, it hurts everyone, because it means less money to repair roads, or remove snow or build new schools.
Eventually, Richard said, he foresees the day when New Hampshire imposes its own sales tax to raise revenue.
"It's only a matter of time," Richard said.
Sasha Manbodh of Lynn, who was shopping at Route 110 Liquors in Amesbury, said she took advantage of the tax-free weekend to purchase a pair of ottomans at a nearby Target.
"Might as well, right?" Manbodh said. "Taxes add up."
But not everyone was thankful for the tax-free holiday. Route 110 Liquors owner George Smith, whose business is suffering from the sales tax now being applied to liquor, said the holiday did little to spur business.
"Not even a blip," Smith said. "We're so close [to the New Hampshire border], we wouldn't feel an increase, because they're still cheaper."
The state began imposing a sales tax on liquor last July. More than a year later, Smith said his sales have yet to recover. Smith added that sales were brisker last Saturday than the recent tax-free Saturday.
"It's a joke," Smith said of the tax-free weekend. "If they really wanted to do something for small businesses, they'd get rid of the sales tax."