Stores prepare for crowds with tax-free back-to-school shopping set for weekend


As students get ready to return to school, parents can save money on certain school supplies and articles of clothing this weekend during the no-sales-tax holiday in Arkansas.

The waiver of sales tax begins on Saturday at 12:01 a.m. and lasts through Sunday at midnight and applies to brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers. Retailers expect an upswing in customers to take advantage of saving nearly 10 percent on taxes alone.

Arkansas state and local sales tax will not be collected on clothing and footwear with a sales price of less than $100 per item, clothing accessories and equipment less than $50 per item, school supplies, school art supplies and school instructional materials. Online sales made from Arkansas are included in the tax holiday, according to Tom Atchley, excise tax administrator for the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.

Some unexpected eligible items for exemption during the tax holiday in Arkansas include diapers, girdles, wedding apparel, umbrellas, sunglasses, bath salts, lip gloss and hair wax. A full list of eligible items is available at the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration website under the Sales & Use Tax section.

In Pine Bluff, many retailers are offering their own sales and discounts in addition to the tax break in hopes of attracting shoppers.

Goodwill Industries is offering a 25 percent coupon to attract folks to shop at its store at 2707 E. Harding Ave. in Pine Bluff, Goodwill Industries of Arkansas public relations and community engagement manager Rebecca Brockman said.

“Tax-free weekend is definitely a draw, so we encourage people to take advantage and get an early start on back-to-school shopping,” Brockman said.

Staff at the Staples store at 2910 E. Harding Ave. in Pine Bluff expect an influx of customers this weekend based on past year’s sales figures, general manager Larry Clark said. The Staples store is offering a 25 percent discount on backpacks that range in price from $29 to $99, he said. The store will also offer another 25 percent discount to customers who purchase school supplies along with a backpack in one transaction, he said.

“Sales usually triple on those days. It is a big weekend,” Clark said.

Staples hires seasonal employees to meet the demands of back-to-school shopping from June through September. The tax-free weekend is usually the busiest period of the summer, Clark said.

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2014 Back-to-School Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, the average American family with children in grades K-12 will spend $669 on clothing, shoes, supplies and electronics. This is up 5 percent from last year, driven by increased demand for electronic items and parents’ need to restock their children’s school supplies from last year.

The older the student, the more money to be spent. The survey found the average family shopping for high school students will spend $683, followed by middle school students at $682 and elementary school-age children with an average of $581.

Pine Bluff School District spokeswoman Kenetta Ridgell encourages parents to take advantage of those two days.

“We always encourage parents to shop for supplies on these days because any savings beats no savings,” Ridgell said. “Now they have a chance to save money.”

Pine Bluff School District distributes school supply lists to stores and to parents who are enrolling a child in the district for the first time, she said.

White Hall School District Superintendent Larry Smith welcomes the no-tax weekend. White Hall produces a list of recommended supplies that parents should buy for children according to their grade, he said. These lists are displayed at many stores that sell school supplies.

“I think it is great for our parents to save money and let their dollar stretch as much as possible,” Smith said. “Everything continues to increase in price. For parents with multiple children, it gets expensive quickly.”

— John Lovett of The Southwest Times Record contributed to this report