Shoppers in Maryland opened their wallets and bought shoes, pants, dress shirts and other apparel over the past week to get a break on the state's 5 percent sales tax.
Early reports from retailers show that spending increased during the state's first tax-free shopping week, which ended Thursday.
"At least for the first few days, it was beyond our expectations," said Tom Saquella, president of the Maryland Retailers Association.
From Aug. 10 through Thursday, consumers paid no sales tax in Maryland stores on clothing and accessories costing less than $100 per item.
The tax reprieve, made possible by a state law backed by retailers and the state comptroller's office, was expected to boost back-to-school sales and help retailers better compete with neighboring states that never charge sales tax on apparel.
The comptroller's office plans to survey 850 retailers and compile sales information that will be presented in a report to the General Assembly by Dec. 1, said Michael Golden, a spokesman for the office. That report is expected to influence whether the week is repeated - or becomes a permanent fixture - as retailers hope.
"All the feedback we're getting from retailers was that it was a monumental success," Golden said. "Retailers ... really felt they were put on equal footing" with states such as Delaware and Pennsylvania.
Although no hard data are yet available, Saquella said informal surveys of more than a dozen retailers showed that sales rose during the first weekend an average 30 percent to 40 percent and as high as 80 percent, compared to the similar week a year earlier.
"In some malls and shopping centers, the traffic was like you see at holiday time," he said.
Some department stores and specialty stores in suburban malls reported especially strong sales.
At Marley Station mall in Glen Burnie, "most stores were reporting at least a double-digit increase over last year," for the first weekend, said Charmaine Crismond, general manager. "We were real pleased with traffic. Obviously the back-to-school shopping was what we saw most of."
But even stores that don't do a hefty back-to-school business benefited. "There's definitely an uptick in business," said Stanley Zerden, owner of Queen's women's apparel shop in Old Town Mall in East Baltimore. "A bunch of customers would come in and see no tax and buy more. It encouraged multiple sales of the lower-priced items."
Zerden estimated that his sales rose about 20 percent over the previous year, "which is significant because we don't do a big back-to-school."
"I would like to see it for a longer period, one or two weeks, because it takes people awhile to get into it," Zerden said.
Confusion over what was taxed and what was tax-free ended up being a minimal concern, Saquella said.
"It was described so much in terms of back-to-school, that some people [mistakenly] thought it only covered children's clothing," and not apparel for adults, he said. A tax-free week in Washington overlapped and included school supplies, which were taxed in Maryland, creating more confusion.
Besides that, the state discovered about 25 stores that continued charging tax on apparel, Golden said.
"We quickly contacted them and corrected that," Golden said. "That's not bad considering this is the first time we've ever done this."
Tax-free items are expected to generate gross sales of up to $150 million for the week, a 100 percent increase from the comparable week last year, the comptroller's office estimates. That would mean savings of up to $6 million for shoppers.