- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 4, 2001

Staples, Filene's Basement, Hecht's and other stores in the District were filled with shoppers yesterday eager to take advantage of the city's first day of a 10-day tax-free holiday.

The sales-tax break knocks off the city's 5.75 sales tax on clothing, shoes and school supplies costing less than $101.

"I think this is a good idea," said Maryland resident Amy Monte. "New Jersey doesn't tax people when they buy clothes."

Maryland and Virginia shoppers are expected to cross the border to take advantage of the tax-free week. Maryland's tax-free holiday, which will run Aug. 10-16, will eliminate the state's 5 percent tax off of clothing and shoes of up to $100.

D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, said she has been pushing such a holiday for five years.

"A lot of D.C. residents run to the suburbs [to shop] or suburbanites stay there," she said yesterday. "I want to make D.C. an attractive place to shop."

Mrs. Schwartz hopes this holiday will become permanent.

"It's good for our businesses and it's good for families, especially low-income families," she said.

The cashiers at Hecht's were well trained for an onslaught of shoppers this week.

"We're kind of watching, anticipating more traffic, having associates staff every register and monitor floor space," said Charlotte Owen, divisional sales manager for Hecht's downtown. "We've had more traffic today than any other day."

Ruth Morgan, a Fort Washington resident, went to Hecht's to buy some dresses for work. She heard about the promotion through a newspaper.

"This week is going to help me out a bit," she said, four dresses slung over her arm. She also is waiting for Maryland's tax-free week. "I'm definitely going to take advantage of that."

Jack Hairston, shopping for school supplies at Staples, had a shopping basket stuffed with notebook paper, folders and pens.

"We're trying to get it all in at once," he said. "We'll also be heading up to Maryland in case we miss something."

Mr. Hairston also plans to shop for clothes in the District "at least once" during the week.

"I think it's an excellent inducement to get people to shop in D.C.," he said.

Though signs pointing out tax-free week greeted customers at Hecht's and Filene's Basement as they step off the escalator, many consumers and store managers said the tax break could have been promoted better.

Royce Reed, district manager at Staples, said the D.C. government could have done more to play up the promotion, which runs through Aug. 12.

"It's been giving us more traffic, but I would have liked more publicity," he said.

Kathy Harmon, general manager of Filene's Basement downtown, said everyone in her store, customers to associates, had their interest piqued by the tax break.

"We have a lot of students that work here, and they're going to shop, too," she said. "It's going to be a busy couple of days."

Shoppers also said they generally ignore District stores for Maryland and Virginia ones, because there isn't much out there to choose from.

Alicia Hetzner, a District resident shopping at Filene's Basement, said she does almost all her shopping in Maryland, because "there's not much selection here."

"This will certainly help me stop from going into Maryland. They must know there's no stores here and everyone knows that," she says.

District officials, including Mayor Anthony A. Williams, have been on a crusade to expand the variety of retailers. Stores like Home Depot and Kmart have signed on with the District recently.

Miss Hetzner said a friend alerted her to the tax break on Thursday and she heard a news item on National Public Radio.

"Maybe they should put ads on the Metro next time," she said.

Even though plans for tax-free D.C. week came well before tax rebates were issued, and area stores always hold end-of-summer clearance sales, Miss Harmon said the timing could not have been better.

"They certainly put this at the right time, no doubt," she said.

* Donna De Marco contributed to this report.

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