Tax Holiday Could Be Coming, But Who Knows When?

The sign for Bernie & Phyl's in Saugus advertises a sales tax holiday in 2010.
Uncertainty over the tax holiday date has forced many retailers to hold off on preparations for the weekend. –ERIK JACOBS/BOSTON GLOBE

As August approaches and shoppers are still wondering when—or, for that matter, whether—to expect a tax holiday, retailers are becoming frustrated.

Most publicize the holiday as soon as early as they can, scheduling extra help and stocking shelves to prepare for an influx of customers that weekend. The uncertainty of the holiday—two bills have suggested different dates, both of which are fast approaching—has forced many retailers to wait on those efforts.

The Massachusetts House and Senate have presented different proposals for when to schedule the holiday. The House approved a bill that would have made the holiday run from August 16 to 17. The Senate later passed a measure to schedule the weekend for seven days earlier, beginning on August 9.


Almost a month after the Senate passed its version, legislators have not yet ironed out the discrepancy, leaving customers and retailers alike wondering which will be the magic weekend.

For the retailers who see a sales spike every year when customers flock to their stores for the holiday, the delay is a nuisance. It’s not one they’re unfamiliar with, however; state lawmakers tend to drag their feet on nailing down the holiday.

Christian Jason, vice president and director of operations at Boston Appliance, says he generally needs some lead time to plan and print out advertising that publicizes the weekend.

Jason has to wait until the legislature makes up its mind about when to schedule the weekend to print out advertisements. He said that it may come down to the wire as he hits early August deadlines for advertising plans.

Larry Newcomb, who owns New England Appliances, has faced similar difficulties. He has had to create generic advertising and business slips that can be modified depending on which weekend is ultimately chosen.

“We’re trying to accommodate the customer as best we can,’’ Newcomb said.

Both Newcomb and Jason also noted that they have not been able to schedule employee vacations since everyone has to be on call to serve the influx of shoppers during the tax reprieve.


Some workers are also frustrated.

Donna Barrett, for example, works as a saleswoman at AAA Appliances of Jamaica Plain. She usually plans her vacation for the week after the tax holiday, but she has had to delay her plans, while vacation prices go up.

Barrett says that employees often try to educate customers about appliances before the holiday so that those customers can simply arrive and buy the goods on the tax free weekend without waiting for busy salespeople to explain them.

Yet according to Barrett, those customers are staying away until they hear about the weekend. Lines may therefore be longer on the weekend itself, she speculated, as salespeople struggle to serve customers who are not prepared to buy goods outright.

Although customers may face longer lines and congested stores during the holiday weekend, they already seem upset about the scheduling.

“There has been a little frustration on the consumers’ part not knowing when the tax holiday is happening,’’ Newcomb said.

The legislative session ends Friday and lawmakers will likely need to pass a measure to schedule the weekend officially before then.

“Hopefully they come out with the date before the end of the week,’’ Jason said. “Otherwise it really will be a problem.’’

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