- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Store managers in the area said yesterday that the weekend start of Maryland's sales-tax-free shopping week was a huge success.

"Saturday and Sunday were just really cranking," said Debbie Young, marketing director for the Westfield Shoppingtown Wheaton. "The customers were really happy when they got here."

Malls and department stores were packed with people wanting to take a break from the state's 5 percent sales tax on purchases of clothing and footwear.

Some malls added incentives of their own hoping to further boost sales. The Westfield Shoppingtown Wheaton in Montgomery County provided shoppers with coupon books that offered additional discounts for various items. Mall officials distributed the coupon books to coincide with tax-free week.

Shoppers are expected to save up to $6 million in sales tax, and produce between $85 million and $150 million in gross sales of clothing, the state comptroller's office said.

While Miss Young couldn't give exact sales figures for the Wheaton mall, she did say that Foot Locker, in particular, had a "double-digit increase" of sales for the week, while "a lot of the stores based on weekend sales were looking up."

Hecht's stores in Maryland also did very well, said Diane Daly, a spokeswoman for the department store chain.

"Across the boards, we saw a double-digit increase," she said. "Wheaton wasn't our strongest store, but it certainly performed well."

Wal-Mart in Bowie reported a 37 percent increase in sales for the weekend, and said that more than 7,100 people shopped at their store, an increase of about 1,000 people.

"It was fantastic," said Desiree Adams, manager of the soft-lines department in Wal-Mart. The softlines department includes clothing. "It was really hard to move around. If you looked up front, it looked like no one was here until you reached the back, where children's clothing was."

The rainy weather over the weekend also gave people an incentive to get out and shop, store managers said.

"Bad weather always brings people into the malls," Miss Young said.

The fact that tax-free week coincided with back-to-school shopping time also sent hordes of people into the stores.

"Normally during this time, it is busy, but it was phenomenal compared with last year," Miss Adams said.

The event's strong publicity campaign also contributed to the rush, Miss Daly said.

"People did come in knowing. They came in ready to shop," she said. "We were very well-prepared for this. It was helpful to have dealt with the Metro Center store in the District beforehand, to know what we'd be experiencing."

Miss Young credited news from other states also participating in tax-free holidays in preparing the mall for the number of people to expect.

"We were anticipating a good weekend," she said. "We had heard stories about other states experiencing the same response."

In addition to Maryland, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and the District all have some sort of sales-tax holiday during which consumers do not have to pay sales tax on certain items.

The program began Friday and continues through Thursday.

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