COVID-19 puts crimp in tax-free school shopping

Staff photo / Andy Gray
Shirleyah Peakes of Youngstown, who will be a freshman at Youngstown State University, holds up one of the dresses she purchased at Southern Park Mall in Boardman on Saturday during tax holiday weekend.

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Ohio families know to expect the sales tax free weekend every August, just in time for back-to-school shopping.

The problem this year is no one knows what to expect from the back-to-school experience due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With some school districts going forward with in-class instruction, some moving classes online and others trying a hybrid of both, families out over the weekend were changing the way they normally prepare for the new school year.

“This weekend I would have taken advantage of, but everything’s hit or miss, everything’s changing,” said Ashley Gore of Liberty, who was shopping at The Supply Room in Liberty. “I’m putting off shopping until everything is written in stone. I haven’t bought any clothes yet. I bought a desk, a new printer to get set up for learning at home, so it’s completely different this year.”

Desks, computers and their accessories are not among the items that are exempt from sales taxes this weekend. The exemption only applies to items of clothing that cost $75 or less and school supplies and school instructional materials priced at $20 or less.

Shirleyah Peakes of Youngstown was shopping for clothing at Southern Park Mall in Boardman to wear for her freshman year at Youngstown State University, even though she only may be on campus a couple days a week.

“Sometimes what I wear won’t really matter,” she said. “I’ve just got to find a way to accept not being on campus every day.”

Marina Dechellis of Youngstown was taking advantage of the clothing discount with her daughters — Elysia, 8, and Milani, 7 — on Saturday, but she said she was more cautious about her spending this year.

“I was going to send them back (to in-class instruction), but I’m starting to have a change of heart now,” Dechellis said. “I think the first nine weeks I’ll try online and hopefully something comes up so they can go back. They miss their friends, but the way things are going to be, they won’t be having lunch together. It’s not going to be the same.”

Shaunda Gray of Champion was shopping with her three children — Kaliyah, 14; Kalylle, 13; and Kalin, 7 — and said the savings from not paying sales tax was adding up.

“With the extra $10 I saved from her shirt and his shirt gets us another pair of pants,” she said. “The taxes are a lot. Everything you buy, it seems like there’s $4 in tax. With three children, I do pay attention (to tax holiday weekend).”

One challenge this year is that many stores have not reopened their fitting rooms after shutting down due to the coronavirus. Gray said her children have grown enough since classroom instruction stopped back in March, that she wasn’t sure of their sizes anymore.

Shelley Simms of Calcutta, who was shopping with her 8-year-old grandson, Jackson Wallace, had a similar complaint.

“Fitting rooms not being open is a real pain in the wazoo,” she said. “Now, if it doesn’t fit, I’ll have to come back.”

The tax holiday continues through today and applies to both in-person and online purchases.

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