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State’s foot dragging on tax free weekend rankles merchants

By Rod Lee

It should come as no surprise to legislators on Beacon Hill that the owners of appliance and furniture stores in Central Massachusetts are more than slightly perturbed—and miffed—that  the state is again dragging its feet about whether to approve a “sales tax-free weekend,” good for transactions conducted August 11-12.

“They’re waiting until the last minute like they do every year,” Raoul Chalifoux of Spencer Furniture, 6 Olde Main St. (Rt. 9) in Spencer, said the morning of July 23rd. “It would be nice to know. Summer can be a little slow.”

Not knowing, Mr. Chalifoux said, “hurts business before it happens and after because there is such an influx of sales it makes it difficult to plan.”

Echoing Mr. Chalifoux’s sentiments, Susan LeBlanc of Charlton Furniture, 107 Dresser Hill Rd. in Charlton, said “we have not heard if it’s definite. As of last week the House had (given the promotion a go) but then it was in the hands of the Senate, or vice versa. I got an email from a representative. Jordan’s (Furniture) is saying it’s not going to happen.”

On July 27th, the fate of the holiday still hung in limbo. On the 25th the Senate voted 31-6 to add a provision to an economic-development bill that would allow for suspension of the state’s 6.25% sales tax the weekend of August 11-12 (this after rejecting the idea in May, and then more recently approving a “grand bargain bill” that will establish the holiday as a permanent fixture on the calendar going forward, effective in January of 2019). Meanwhile, as a result of the Senate’s action on the 25th, it was left to the House and Senate to resolve differences in the broader legislation in order for the governor to sign off on it so that the sales-tax holiday could in fact happen this year.

All this with legislators preparing to go into recess on the 31st.

The team at Spencer Furniture includes (but is not limited to), on the sofa, from the left, Brittany LeBlanc, Shawn Malvey and Gayle Lisiecki and, standing, Eva Ramsey, Josh Leger, Tammy Setterlund and Raoul Chalifoux.

Operating under the mantra “Escape the Ordinary” and “For Happy Homes,” respectively, Charlton Furniture and Spencer Furniture are two of the region’s longstanding destinations of first choice for furnishings for the home and office. As is Horton Furniture at 53 Schofield Ave. in Dudley. Horton’s Steve Duszlak, pausing while working at his desk, said, in ratifying the shared thinking, “I hope they have it. It’s so hard to tell what they’re going to do!”

Mark Vanderhoof of Vee’s Furniture and Mattresses, 183 Main St., a store that has been open for only about a month, was not available for comment for this article.

Both Ms. LeBlanc and Mr. Chalifoux said suspension of the sales tax for one weekend a year in the midst of the typically tepid dog-day months for furniture stores like theirs provides a much-appreciated boost.

“In the past, it has been a huge thing for us,” Ms. LeBlanc said. “The first one, I can’t even tell you how much business we did and the sales tax then was 5%, now it’s 6.25% so it’s that much more (of an incentive for customers to save on their purchases). People will wait or move their buy date up to August” to take advantage. “I always thought it was a great shot in the arm. People like that they’re putting one over on the government!”

Bicycles are a hot item at Whitco Sales in Spencer.

“It definitely helps,” Bill White of Whitco Sales, 140 Main St. in Spencer, said, of the sales tax-free weekend, “but we’ve been very busy the last couple of months anyway. I’m in favor of it of course if they have it.”

Mr. White describes Whitco Sales, which sports a Spag’s-like feel, as “an iconic store.” Whitco, he said, has benefitted from “new home construction, from a heavy demand for air-conditioning units and from Toys R Us going out of business.”

Whitco is always worth a visit, many people believe, for the experience of perusing its crammed narrow aisles in quest of appliances, bicycles and a multitude of other product—including (we noticed, while waiting for Mr. White to answer telephone calls) such unusual finds as an electric guitar for kids, a “singing machine”, a “Radio Flyer Ride & Stand” and a “Lights & Sounds Trike.”

Wondering about whether the state will reverse the course it has taken the past two years by not okaying tax-free sales has prompted stores like Spencer Furniture to plunge ahead on their own. In Spencer Furniture’s case this means a “better than tax free” promotion. This is described as “choose to shop NOW and receive discount equivalent to the MA sales tax PLUS interest-free financing up to twelve months with approved credit; order must be paid in full at time of purchase to receive MA tax discount. Or choose to avoid the crowds and preview and select now and upon approval of pending MA sales tax weekend receive Double tax free savings.” Mr. Chalifoux and his team note that the offer is “not valid with any other discounts, coupons or on prior purchases.”

The offer expires August 10th.

Tammy Setterlund, who handles marketing and design for Spencer Furniture, said the store introduced its promotion after seeing “some of the bigger guys coming out early” with special deals. She termed Spencer Furniture’s promotion as “a legitimate discount with no increase in prices. We will never change our prices to offer a discount.”

Without “pent-up demand,” Charlton Furniture’s Ms. LeBlanc said, “the novelty” of tax-free “wears off.” There is a sense of uncertainty, Ms. LeBlanc said, about how making tax free a permanent ingredient will impact sales long-term.

Regardless, she said, “we’ve always got great sales going on.”

Zoe Perry of By the Brook Furniture, 159 Hartford Rd. (Rt. 6) in Brooklyn, Connecticut, spared the annoyance of Massachusetts’s back-and-forth on tax free, can focus on pointing towards the Woodstock Fair—a Labor Day tradition. “We sell a lot of sheds and other things that weekend,” Ms. Perry said.

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.