Without N.C. tax-free weekend, Brunswick shoppers to head south

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By Brian Slattery

While North Carolina legislators decided 2013 would be the last year of the tax-free weekend, Brunswick County shoppers can still take advantage of the tax savings — in South Carolina.

The sales-tax free holiday returns Aug. 1-3 but what it saves Brunswick residents in taxes it might cost them in gasoline.

The tax holiday was signed into law in 2001 by then-Gov. Mike Easley but was eliminated as part of the Tax Reduction Act in 2013.

The House passed the act by a vote of 77-38. The state Senate passed it by a vote of 32-17.

From 2002 to 2013, sales tax was not included on personal property purchased in North Carolina during the first weekend of August on clothing of $100 or less, school supplies priced $100 or less per item and school instructional materials $300 or less per item.

The tax break also covered computers with a sales price of no more than $3,500, computer supplies priced at $250 or less per item and sports or recreational equipment priced at no more than $50.

The new state law specifically states those items are no longer exempt from sales and use

tax under N.C. General Statute 105-164.13C.

The statute also warns businesses not to offer customers a tax free-like discount: “Any retailer who shall by any character or public advertisement offer to absorb the tax levied in [Article 5 of Chapter 105] or in any manner directly or indirectly advertise that the tax here in imposed is not considered an element in the price to the purchaser shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

“Any violations of the provisions of this section reported to the Secretary shall be reported by him to the Attorney General of the State to the end that such violations may be brought to the attention of the solicitor of the court of the county or district whose duty it is to prosecute misdemeanors in the jurisdiction. It shall be the duty of such solicitor to investigate such alleged violations and if he finds that this section has been violated prosecute such violators in accordance with the law.”

Brunswick County Chamber of Commerce President Shannon Viera said local shoppers would come out during North Carolina’s tax-free weekend, especially at the area’s two largest back-to-school suppliers, Walmart and Office Depot.

“It is not an entitled discount, but people enjoyed it. I expect they will cross the state line to go. I imagine there will be a lot of opportunity to go spend dollars there,” Viera said.

“We will lose some dollars in the local economy because people will go out of state.”

Krystal McLamb, a manager at the Shallotte Office Depot, said the tax-free weekend was always busy and usually tied into a busy week as the store promoted a number of sales for teachers getting ready to return to the classroom.

McLamb said the store will host teacher appreciation week again this year despite the end of the tax-free weekend. She said they are not hosting a teacher’s breakfast again, but will still provide teachers with a free bag that includes a 20 percent off coupon and hold gift card drawings in the store.

Brunswick County Schools administrators create a list of essential school supplies that will be available ahead of the South Carolina sales tax-free weekend Aug. 1-3.

Eddy McClure, manager of Dollar Tree in Little River, S.C., just across the Brunswick County line, said he doesn’t anticipate the store will see a dramatic increase in sales of basic items, like school supplies.

But he can see Brunswick County shoppers making the trip to North Myrtle Beach, S.C., and into Myrtle Beach, S.C., to go after the bigger items that bring real savings when sales tax is left off the price tag.

“People go for the big items. They will go to the outlets. They will go for computers and clothes,” McClure said. “We are usually the last stop because they know we’ve got what we’ve always got. They come here after getting their main stuff.”

McClure said North Myrtle Beach has a Walmart and Office Depot, which will bring in some shoppers, but it’s the big box stores in Myrtle Beach that will see the most impact of the tax-free weekend from both South Carolinians and North Carolinians.

“They will go to the Tanger Outlet and the malls right across the street,” McClure said.

“In Myrtle Beach, at the Best Buy, people will spend like it’s Black Friday there.”

McClure has managed Dollar Tree stores in Shallotte and Whiteville and said even when North Carolina had the tax-free weekend, the shoppers headed to the beaches to hit the biggest stores.

“They would either have to go to Wilmington or Myrtle Beach,” he said. “The big chains are the ones that actually have the sales. They’ll put the computers on sale to get people in.”

Now that North Carolina’s tax-free weekend is a thing of the past, McClure said he could see people from as far north as Leland making the trip to Myrtle Beach to take advantage of South Carolina’s tax-free shopping.

The laws allowing for the tax-free weekend in South Carolina have some differences compared with the rules used in North Carolina.

The 6 percent state sales and use tax, and any applicable local sales and use tax, will not be imposed on clothing, clothing accessories like hats and handbags, footwear, school supplies including pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, books and bookbags, lunchboxes and calculators, computers, printers and printer supplies, computer software, and bath wash, blankets, bedding, bath towels, shower curtains, bath rugs and mats, pillows, and pillow cases.

The sales tax holiday, however, does not apply to sales of jewelry, cosmetics, eyewear, wallets, watches, furniture, rental of clothing or footwear, items for use in a business, or items placed on layaway or similar deferred payment and delivery plans.

In South Carolina, cell phones, smartphones or any other handheld devices that allow users to make telephone calls, are not considered computers for purposes of the sales tax

holiday exemption.

Handheld devices for downloading and listening to music, or watching videos and e-books are also not covered by the sales tax holiday law.

Portable devices that have computing and media functions, can access the Internet and have a multitude of software applications or the capability to download a multitude of software applications are considered computers for purposes of the sales tax holiday, provided the devices do not allow users to make telephone calls.

The South Carolina Department of Revenue provides a list of examples of exempt and non-exempt items on its website, www.sctax.org. If you have any questions, call (803) 898-5788 or email salestax@sctax.org.

Brian Slattery is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or bslattery@brunswickbeacon.com.