A 10-day, back-to-school tax holiday starts Friday, allowing shoppers to save money while loading up on clothes, shoes, school supplies and computers.
The Florida Legislature is going back to a 10-day tax holiday from three days for the first time since 2007, a break that gives a 6 percent to 7 percent discount on top of back-to-school sales typically offered by retailers.
Shoppers won't pay sales tax on most clothes and shoes that cost less than $100, as well as items such as diapers and backpacks. The discount also applies to most school supplies of less than $15 and computers less than $750 and accessories.
"It will be nice to have that extra time and not cram it all into a few days," said Kyffa Crawford, who was shopping at Altamonte Mall on Tuesday. "The only reason I even came to the mall today is because my 13-year-old daughter had to have this one backpack."
Retailers throughout Florida pushed for the extended holiday, which will cost state and local budgets about $59.9 million, according to estimates from the state's Department of Economic and Demographic Research.
Tim O'Brien, Florida Mall's J.C. Penney general manager, said the extra week softens the mad rush of a single weekend.
"It's a big win for us, and it does spread the sales out," O'Brien said. "We will still be really busy this weekend, and it will keep up until the end but not so crazy as last year."
For children heading back to school this year, O'Brien said athletic apparel is hot, especially casual-wear leggings and sweats.
"And the 'Star Wars' merchandise has been really strong with the movie coming out later this year," he said.
For Crawford, this is the first year that her kindergartner and first-grader at Apopka Elementary School will be required to wear uniforms.
"In some ways it will be easier, and some ways that will make it harder," Crawford said. "But I really haven't even started any of my shopping yet, and school is just a few weeks away."
For parents in Seminole County, the end of the sales-tax holiday comes just before the first day of school Aug. 17, while Orange and Lake County schools start a week later.
Florida has been running sales-tax holidays around the school shopping season since 1998 and pushed it to 10 days in 2007 before scaling it back during the recession.
Whether a sales-tax holiday actually helps shoppers or the economy is debatable, said Steve Kirn, executive director with the David F. Miller Retailing Education and Research Center at the University of Florida. But he did say it creates more incentives for shoppers to hit stores.
"You can create some buzz with a tax holiday, and the consumers win because there are more discounts to go around," Kirn said.
Best Buy in Altamonte Springs has already seen an influx of shoppers looking for back-to-school computers, especially tablets and laptops, said sales manager Matt Ditzel.
"The vendors themselves have been very keen to the sales-tax break and are doing a lot of sales themselves," Ditzel said.
Not everyone is excited by the promise of crowded stores.
Longwood's Jessica Johnson, who was out shopping with her three kids, said she won't be doing any back-to-school shopping this year. The only thing that brought her to Altamonte Mall on Tuesday was her 23-year-old daughter, Melanie, who will be heading back to the University of Alabama soon.
"I've been buying things throughout the year, so I can avoid all of this," she said.
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•When: Friday to Sunday, Aug. 16.
•Savings: 7 percent in Seminole and Lake counties, 6.5 percent in Orange County.
•Some items exempt from sales taxes: Most clothes less than $100, shoes less than $100, backpacks, belts, bras, underwear, costumes, cleats, diapers, school uniforms, jackets, coats, slippers, swimsuits, school supplies less than $15 each, computers less than $750 and some computer accessories.
•You will still pay sales tax on: Items bought at theme parks, jewelry, watches, athletic equipment, rented clothing, roller skates, ski gear, fishing boots, sunglasses, wigs, video games and accessories, digital cameras, cellphones and computer bags.
For more details, go to OrlandoSentinel.com/taxholiday
SOURCE: Florida Department of Revenue