The first Illinois state sales-tax holiday, a 10-day reprieve that ended Sunday, brought shoppers to the big chain stores on Roosevelt Road, but no noticeable difference in shopping traffic among the small, independent shops on Madison Street.
“Walgreens was slammed with people buying school supplies,” said Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor owner Connie Brown, who was among the shoppers snatching up discounted notebooks, pens and pencils at 7200 Roosevelt Road just as the break started on Aug. 6.
That same afternoon, all was quiet at the Madison Commons stretch of shops that includes Afkara Shoes. “Look. Do you see people out in droves?” said owner Afkara Mason.
Touted by the state as a back-to-school event, the tax holiday, which ran from Aug. 6 to Aug. 15, including two weekends and exempted shoppers from Illinois’s 5 percent sales tax on school supplies, clothing and shoes less than $100.
It was the longest sales-tax holiday in the country. Neighboring states’ tax-free periods usually last three days.
“It’s for that person who lives from paycheck to paycheck, who needs to save 10 or 15 or 25 or 50 bucks for school supplies for their kids,” said Gov. Pat Quinn when he signed the legislation in July. Typically, families spend up to $600 on school-related supplies and equipment, according to retailer merchant groups.
Robert Elfinger of Walgreens corporate office confirmed for the Review that, during the tax holiday, customer traffic was “busier than normal” at Forest Park’s Walgreens.
A representative from Sears, the parent company of Kmart, would not comment on specific sales data, but did say that Kmart was offering even more discounts on clothing and shoes for the second weekend of the tax holiday. The parking lot of Kmart’s neighbor on Roosevelt Road, Walmart, was packed last weekend, though a representative for Walmart said she could comment neither on traffic patterns nor on sales.
“There was not a whole lot,” said Heels manager Mary Scatena, referring to added traffic. “I didn’t even realize it was for shoes until I went to the department stores and saw huge signs. It helped the big businesses, not the small ones.”
The back-to-school marketing push hurt consumer awareness that the tax break applied to adult apparel, a few clothing retailers said. Specialty apparel shops like Deedee & Edie held a sidewalk sale the previous week and saw sales go up only then.
Some small Forest Park businesses on Madison Street used the tax break to boost their year-end summer sales. Although lingerie rarely tops a back-to-school shopping list, Baubo’s Garden owner Eden DeGenova added the tax-free incentive to her annual summer sale. DeGenova absorbed 4.75 percent county and local sales taxes in addition to the savings on the state sales tax.
Next year, Scatena says Heels will be ready for the tax holiday. “We’ll have big signs,” she vowed.
Helen Karakoudas Redfern contributed to this story.