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If you run into Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot while shopping for clothes or shoes this week or next, don't be surprised.

The comptroller on Tuesday kicked off his annual rounds of Maryland malls and retail districts to promote the state's tax-free shopping week, which starts Sunday and runs through Aug. 15.

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As in past years, shoppers in Maryland will get a break on the state's 6 percent sales tax during a week that's timed to coincide with back-to-school shopping.

Any single, qualifying item of apparel and footwear priced at $100 or less, regardless of the number purchased, will be tax free. The second week of August has been tax-free week since 2007, when state lawmakers passed legislation during a special session.

During a stop this morning at The Avenue at White Marsh, Franchot and Maryland Retailers Association spokesperson Tom Saquella urged consumers to take advantage of savings during a crucial period for retailers -- especially small businesses. After the holiday selling season, the back-to-school period has become the second or third biggest time of year for many stores, the officials said.

"I can't emphasize enough how important [the week is] for the consumers of the state and small businesses and the state's economy," Franchot said, as he was joined at the outdoor center by Baltimore County Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins, Councilwoman Vicki Almond and Register of Wills Grace Connolly. "Tax free week benefits all of us in Maryland and boosts revenue for retailers."

While the state loses almost $1 million in tax revenue during the week, Franchot said, businesses --  and the state, too, -- benefit from increased spending that also includes non-tax exempt items.

"When you get consumers out, they're going to open up their wallets," he said.

The comptroller browsed at Famous Footwear before heading to Baltimore's Hampden neighborhood and Cloud 9 Clothing.

On Thursday, he will visit Queenstown Premium Outlets and the Hatley Boutique on Main Street in Annapolis. Franchot will wrap up his retail tour on Friday at Beyda's Lad & Lassie in Bethesda, then head to Waldorf, where he'll make a stop at St. Charles Center.

Franchot said retailers see sales jumps of 7 percent to 10 percent during tax-free week.

"This is a boost for Maryland retailers," Saquella said. "It's a gift for the taxpayers."

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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