Retailers are grateful state lawmakers decided to reinstitute a sales-tax exemption on clothing and footwear purchases, but they aren't sure it's making a difference in how much consumers are buying.
Shoppers purchasing clothing and footwear less than $110 are no longer required to pay the 4 percent state sales tax, essentially restoring an exemption that was lost Oct. 1, 2010, when it was eliminated from the state budget.
On April 1, 2011, the exemption was phased back in, with sales tax eliminated for attire purchases under $55. The full exemption took effect last week.
Charles Rossbach, the owner of Rossbach Shoes in Gloversville, places footwear on display at his store on West Fulton Street in Gloversville Wednesday. The state has lifted its 4 percent sales tax on footwear purchases. The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
But most counties and cities in New York are still levying their share of sales tax. Shoppers in Fulton and Montgomery counties still will pay 4 percent sales tax. Locally, only Hamilton County has eliminated the tax.
"Instead of shopping tax-free, it's like shopping tax half-off," said Ted Potrikus, executive vice president of the Retail Council of New York State.
Potrikus said counties that border states without clothing sales tax are more likely to go along with the exemption, but he's not surprised counties in the heart of the state, facing fiscal belt-tightening, haven't gone along with the exemption.
"Certainly we'd love to see it, but I can't imagine there are a lot of counties out there that can afford to go without even a portion of the sales tax," Potrikus said.
This time, the state's exemption does not have an expiration date.
"Right now, it's permanent," Potrikus said. "We'll go with permanent."
Tim Dado, the manager at Sievert's Sports on Route 30 in the town of Amsterdam, said customers this week mentioned they waited to buy new sportswear and sneakers until April 1 so they could save a little cash.
"I have had a few customers that have actually mentioned it, and that was the reason they were coming in," Dado said. "They waited until April to get new shoes."
But he said consumer patterns don't seem to be changing. People are still buying the same amount of items they planned to get.
"With [the cost of] everything in the economy going up, it's definitely a help," Dado said. "Hopefully it keeps people shopping in the area and not going to other states where they don't have to pay any tax."
Charles Rossbach, the owner of Rossbach Shoes on West Fulton Street in Gloversville, said customers didn't mention the tax exemption to him last week.
"It doesn't seem to really make a difference," Rossbach said. "But every little bit helps."
Rossbach said when the state and counties used to exempt sales tax on clothing and shoes for two weeks a year, it spurred heavy shopping periods.
"When they first started to do that, it made a difference. But after a while it seems to calm down," Rossbach said.
Deb Sauber, the owner of Panache Consignment Boutique on North Main Street in Gloversville agreed, saying customers seemed to use the cash they saved to spend a little more during those weeks.
This week, the exemption doesn't seem to have made a difference, she said.
"It makes a difference to people who are buying a lot," she said, noting the exemption is on each item, not the total.
The lowered tax "certainly beats 8 percent," she said.
Potrikus said the council hasn't received much feedback from its members.
"We haven't heard anything specific this week because we've been through this many, many times," Potrikus said. "When [the state] was doing just one week without sales tax, at the end of the week, we'd hear from members all the time saying 'this is great, let's do this again, it's terrific.' Having said that, it doesn't make [the permanent tax cut] any less nice and decent. It's a good thing and a heck of a lot better than having to pay sales tax."
Amanda Whistle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.