Maryland appliance stores get jolt from annual tax break -- Gazette.Net


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This story was updated at 4 p.m. on Feb. 21.

Some merchants say they received a boost during the three-day Presidents Day tax-free sales holiday on energy-efficient appliances and electric products, but others say the event was still not adequately advertised.

Maryland held its third tax-free weekend last weekend, waiving the 6 percent state sales tax on qualifying Energy Star products such as compact fluorescent light bulbs, refrigerators and clothes washers.

At Appliance Land in Beltsville, sales during this year’s tax-free weekend rose 25 percent over the 2012 promotion, when they were up 30 percent over 2011, owner Tony Patane said Thursday.

He said the average shopper spent about $1,100 on products during the promotion, with the store taking in $300 more than usual for each sale. Patane said the boost is particularly impressive for an independent merchant at a time when the number of appliance retailers in the Washington, D.C. region is growing.

“We’re really happy with this weekend,” Patane said, although sales often lag for 10 days before and after the promotion, as shoppers time their purchases with the tax break. “In this industry, over the past few years, sales have been flat at best. To have a 25 percent increase is a good thing.”

Appliance Land also has stores in Rockville, Annapolis and Pikesville.

Hardware stores such as Strosniders Hardware in Bethesda noticed some customer interest, but the promotion’s main focus was increasing awareness of energy efficiency, said Ken Wood, manager of the electrical department.

“In reality, the event is more geared toward appliances,” Wood said. “But it definitely works. Anybody wants to save anything nowadays.”

Strosniders also has stores in Potomac and Silver Spring.

Several other Maryland hardware business representatives said they were not aware of the promotion. State Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) was on a media blitz leading up to the weekend promotion, making announcements over the radio and at media events.

Patane also said the state needs to do a better job of ensuring customers know which products are eligible for the tax break. Every year he deals with shoppers coming to the store to buy Energy Star dishwashers and other appliances that are not eligible, he said. Patane said he would like to see more products qualify, as the point of the program is persuading people to swap out their old products for energy-efficient ones.

The comptroller’s office does not project losses in sales tax revenues from the annual promotion. But a fiscal note from the enabling legislation the General Assembly passed during the 2007 special session estimated that such revenues would fall by $591,500 in fiscal 2012.

Maryland is one of five states that offer an Energy Star tax-free weekend. Virginia holds such a promotion in October.

The promotion is Maryland’s second yearly tax-free holiday; the other, in August, is for school shopping and clothing.

Patrick Donoho, president of the Maryland Retailers Association, said the promotion draws people and allows real savings for customers.

“I think it’s helpful for consumers and the environment,” he said.

lrobbins@gazette.net