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Sales tax weekend could add to pandemic woes

The back-to-school tax-free holiday on clothes, school supplies, and computers begins Friday in Tennessee and continues through Sunday.
Schools may not reopen, and the “tax-free holiday” cuts into government revenue. But during a pandemic, states may be thinking, why not offer a bit of relief?
We would encourage Carter Countians to shop locally this weekend. Small business is what powers not only Tennessee’s economy, but our local economy. According to a study from American Express, 67 cents of every dollar spent at a small business stays in the community. It also creates an additional 50 cents in local business activity as employees and owners purchase local goods and services.
We believe it’s important to support local businesses throughout the year, and this year’s tax-free holiday gives people an extra reason to shop for school clothes and supplies from local merchants and support local restaurants the following weekend, Aug. 7-9, when a special tax-free holiday for restaurants will be held.
A survey by the National Retail Federation, a trade group, found that families are expecting to spend a record $790, on average, on back-to-school items this year, particularly on technology. Nearly two-thirds of families with children in kindergarten through 12th grade said they expected to buy computers and other electronics, up from about half last year, because of the potential for digital at-home classes.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty around the school year,” said Katherine Cullen, the senior director of industry and consumer insights at the retail federation. “Customers are budgeting for all possible scenarios.”
Even during a pandemic, consumers still want new jeans, and students will need notebooks and other school supplies regardless of what form school takes in the fall.
And they still want a deal.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense economic strain on Tennessee families. These sales tax holidays will allow them to keep more of their hard-earned money and support Tennessee businesses,” Gov. Bill Lee said in a news release.
This year, the “holiday” could turn into another big contributor to school districts deciding not to let kids go back to school at all.
You thought Memorial Day and the Fourth of July weekend promoted virus transmission by enticing people to get out in public more than was safe? Imagine what could happen when our state government ramps up its annual push to pack everybody into clothing, footwear, electronics retailers on a single weekend.
Regardless, it’s good for the local and state economies. Local businesses employ our neighbors and support our schools and other government operations through their property taxes.
But while we do need to support the businesses that have a physical presence in our communities — and particularly those that are locally owned — it’s neither smart nor responsible to try to encourage Black Friday crowds in the middle of a pandemic.
But, if you do shop, shop locally.