Shoppers across South Florida hit the malls Friday to get ready for the new school year, buying tax-free school supplies, new outfits and electronics.
Throughout the weekend, Floridians will be spared the usually required 6 percent state sales tax and any other local option tax on school supplies that cost $15 or less; on footwear, clothes and accessories priced $100 or less; or on the first $750 for computers and computer-related electronics.
Diana Plaza walked up and down the school supplies aisles at a Target in Sunrise on Friday, looking for more than a dozen items her 5-year-old son needs for the new school year as a kindergartner.
"Any cent that I save helps," said Plaza, who lives in Tamarac and also needed to buy other supplies for Brennan, her 11-year-old son who's becoming a middle schooler this year.
The back-to-school shopping season is considered one of the busiest of the year, second to Black Friday. Aside from the tax exemption, shoppers benefit from special discounts and promotions offered by retailers vying for customers.
"It's only three days, but it's worth waiting for them," said 52-year-old Jose Bronca, from Plantation. He was out at Sawgrass Mills on Friday with his 14-year-old son, Andre, buying athletic shoes and other tax-free items.
"It feels good to save money," he said.
"We are going to buy everything this weekend, tennis shoes, bookbag, uniform, supplies," said Shimeica Reaves, as she walked around Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise with her 6-year-old daughter, Lavender, who was already wearing her brand new Monster High bookbag.
The 31-year-old mother from Oakland Park said she would use tax savings to buy more school supplies for Lavender, who's heading into first grade.
In Coral Springs, Kim Rice and her 13-year-old daughter, Kayla, popped in and out of stores Friday at the Coral Square Mall, looking for shoes and clothes that would be perfect for the eighth grade.
Rice, of Coconut Creek, said she planned on spending about $200 on new shoes and apparel for Kayla.
"The tax-free weekend is a big help," said Rice, 36. "I look forward to it every year. It's a nice little benefit."
Total back to school and college spending in Florida is expected to reach about $5 billion, with tax-exempt sales accounting for about $600 million of that amount, according to the Florida Retail Federation.
In all, the federation estimates Floridians will save about $40 million over the back-to-school sales tax holiday.
Debi Gardi's mom has been eyeing an iPad for three months.
Gardi and her 19-year-old daughter Amy helped her research it for months, comparing prices and features with competitors such as the Microsoft Surface and Android tablet. They were waiting until this weekend to make a purchase — tax free.
Gardi said she noticed the Apple Store in the Town Center mall in Boca was gearing up for an increase in customers, adding an express check-out line.
"We came early to avoid the afternoon rush," Gardi said. "And we intend to buy a lot more before we leave."
The majority of shoppers Friday were looking for back-to-school clothing and supplies: moms and dads with young children, teens browsing solo and a few grandparents.
Jesenia Rivera, a 17-year-old Boca Raton resident, said she has been waiting for this weekend to do her back-to-school shopping.
"I've spent $50 on shoes already," she said. "But I haven't even been to Forever 21 yet."
At Office Depot in Boynton Beach, the store's back-to-school aisle was packed with customers browsing for notebooks, pens and folders.
"She needs a lot — papers, markers, erasers," she said. "This is the time to get it done."
Manager Mark Prazak said the store expects a 25 to 30 percent increase in customers — most of whom are moms doing back-to-school shopping for their kids.
"We staff up quite a bit, make sure we have labor in the time frames, like the middle of the day, when we think we'll be busiest," he said.
The back-to-school shopping season has started earlier this year than in past years, spreading it out longer across the summer, Prazak said. He said it's hard to predict how the store will do this weekend.
But on Friday, check-out lines at Office Depot snaked around the store.
Jerome Lagos of Boynton Beach was browsing the office supply retailer with his three sons, ages 7, 5 and 2.
"Back-to-school shopping is just something you have to do," Lagos said, referring to a double-sided shopping list with items ranging from eraser tops to construction paper.
Mikee Rulli of Briny Breezes was shopping for pencils and notebooks for her church's school supply drive, an event she participates in annually.
"This is actually my first time coming out [for the sales tax-exempt] weekend," she said. "But I'm glad I did."
Jonathan Moltimer of Boca Raton said he bought between $300 and $400 worth of sneakers at Champs and Journey's in the Town Center mall.
"I figure I saved about $100, so it's worth it," he said.
Back to school sales tax holiday
When: Friday to Sunday
What's tax free?
School supplies: $15 or less
Clothes, footwear and accessories: $100 or less
Computers and related accessories: no tax on first $750Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun