A Penny-Wise Weekend in Va.

By Michael D. Shear and Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 3, 2006

The Tax Man cometh. But not this weekend.

For the first time in Virginia, a 99-cent pencil will be, well, 99 cents. And at some stores from tomorrow morning to Sunday night, shelling out $3,500 for that high-definition flat-screen plasma television some have always wanted won't include forking over an additional $175.

It's also time for the District's annual sales-tax holiday -- a chance for consumers to save a buck or two, retailers to ignite a Christmas-like rush in August and politicians to crow about the tax relief they've voted for. Maryland's tax-free weekend will arrive in a few weeks. Washington's will last the longest, for nine days.

"It is a whole different mindset when you think about tax-free versus a 5 percent sale," said Laurie Peterson Aldrich, president of the Virginia Retail Merchants Association in Richmond. "Folks don't like taxes. They don't want to pay 'em. It's getting one over on the government."

But it's Virginia where excitement is building. A new law authorizes the three-day holiday from the state's 5 percent sales tax every August.

"It's great for parents preparing for their kids going back to school, but it's great for all consumers," said Ryan T. McDougle (R-Mechanicsville), who sponsored the legislation in the Senate. "It's a great tax break for the working families."

At the Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets yesterday, Miriam Hamilton, 24, manager of Little Me, a children's clothing store, said all of the store's merchandise will be sold tax-free except toys and some accessories. All five clerks will be on hand Saturday to handle the crowds.

"We've never had a slow weekend over here, but this time it might get a little crazy," Hamilton said.

Virginia's break applies only to school supplies that cost $20 or less an item and clothing or shoes costing $100 or less. But the law allows merchants to absorb the cost of the sales tax for any item, making it appear tax-free to customers.

As a result, several of the state's largest retailers -- Circuit City and Wal-Mart, for example -- are expanding the sales tax break to entice customers during a normally slow time.

"We have decided to go ahead and not charge the sales tax for all products purchased in Virginia," said Bill Cimino, a spokesman for Circuit City, which is based in Richmond. "We've seen sales tax holidays in other states. We've seen the interest and the excitement generated by it."

The $99 iPod Shuffle? $99.

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