Shoppers fill carts on tax-free weekend

Shoppers around New Mexico were filling up their carts, and filling up a few school buses, while trying to not completely empty their wallets this weekend.

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson

Britany Valdez, left, and son Nate Carney, both of Hereford, check out athletic shorts Saturday at JCPenney at the North Plains Mall in Clovis. Valdez said they were visiting family in Clovis and they lucked into the state's tax-free weekend when they decided to visit the mall. Valdez said the back-to-school tax-free weekend is two weeks away in Texas.

For the seventh August, residents took advantage of a limited tax-free holiday, which started Friday and runs through Sunday.

Under terms of the weekend — started in 2005 under then-Gov. Bill Richardson to compete with similar weekends in neighboring states — gross receipts taxes are not applied towards clothing and shoes less than $100, school supplies less than $30, computers less than $1,000 and computer equipment.

With a gross receipts tax rate of 7.8125 percent in Clovis, a purchase of a $500 laptop, two $75 pairs of shoes, and five $20 shirts is $58.60 cheaper Sunday than those same purchases on Monday.

The gross receipts tax rate in Portales is 7.75 percent.

Merchants reported basic items were selling well. Andy Pena, an assistant manager at Walmart, said morning shopping was slow but he expected things to pick up in the afternoon. He could already tell that school items like glue sticks and notebook paper were quickly disappearing from the stationary area in front of the registers.

Some of those items never even made it to the customers' cars, as they instead went to a school bus outside.

The United Way of Eastern New Mexico worked at both the Portales and Clovis Walmart locations with its second annual "Stuff the Bus" school supply drive. Volunteers would hand customers lists of acceptable donation items before they walked into the stores.

"We're doing well, we're filling up boxes and stuffing the bus," said Patricia Bazar, 2-1-1 coordinator for United Way of Eastern New Mexico.

Executive Director Erinn Burch, manning the collection point at Portales, said the idea came from a similar campaign in Lea County.

"Last year, we weren't able to schedule it on the tax-free holiday," Burch said. "It's a busy shopping day, which helps, but I don't have final numbers (yet) to compare it to last year."

Burch said the most donated items tended to be spiral notebooks, while items in need included 3-inch three-ring binders.

The drive will continue through next week, with donations accepted at the United Way office at the Matt 25 Hope Center in Clovis, or The Print Shop in Portales. Items collected stay within each city's school system.

At North Plains Mall, JCPenney store manager Jennifer Libbers said Saturday was going well.

"Traffic has been excellent," Libbers said. "We've had a ton of customers today."

Both Libbers and Melissa Bonem, store manager at Bealls in Portales, said denim items were selling well, regardless of brand.

Many merchants at the mall were adding additional discounts onto clearance items, hoping to provide further incentives for customers to knock out existing stock.

Bonem said the Portales store and its Stage Stores parent company didn't have a specific sale tied to the weekend, but noted their customers are adept at using the systems in place to save money.

"We always run a special catalog (anyway), and we run a discount coupon," Bonem said. "They combine that with the tax-free weekend."

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