Reaction mixed on effect of state’s first tax-free holiday

Johnny Pacheco and his wife Kristen Pacheco, both of Portales, walk through the North Plains Mall as the two shop Saturday in Clovis. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Wearing the company’s trademark black-and-white striped shirt and surrounded by name brand athletic gear, Foot Locker manager Ken Walker outlined his own game plan.

“When I took the job, I thought about what I would need to do to keep people in the store,” said the manager, who left a hectic Lubbock store for the Clovis North Plains Mall branch, and quickly tried to get the word out to customers — items seen at other Foot Locker branches can be shipped to Clovis.

Walker’s biggest fear was his customer base would be constantly jeopardized by the allure of nearby Texas shopping.

“It’s traditional for families to travel to Lubbock or Amarillo to do their back-to-school shopping — and then go have a nice dinner,” explained Foot Locker associate David Baca.

New Mexico’s first tax-free holiday, which ends tonight, was designed to curb that trend, said Gov. Bill Richardson last Tuesday while visiting the Clovis mall.

Nontaxable items include clothing and footwear of $100 or less and school supplies. Computers priced at $1,000 or less will also be nontaxable.

Shoppers save about $6 on every $100 they spend.

Although the majority of North Plains Mall retailers such as Walker embraced the tax freeze, they were unsure of whether or not it attracted customers to the mall.

Struggling with two bulging Beall’s bags, shopper Paula Pasco said she did not save much money Saturday because of the tax-freeze. She added that she would have come to the mall regardless of the tax-free incentive to buy back-to-school clothes for her 7-year-old daughter.
For herself, however, she prefers to shop on-line or in Lubbock.

Several shoppers echoed Pasco’s statements, saying the tax-freeze did not draw them to local stores nor did they save a significant amount on their purchases because of the freeze.

It does, however, level the playing field, according to many mall retailers. But whether or not Clovis can compete with Lubbock and Amarillo as a result, as state legislators hoped, retailers remain uncertain.

“I ordered more computers just in case,” said Radioshack manager Veronica Estrada. But the tax break, applied to computers less than $1,000, did not spur sales, Estrada said.

“We haven’t sold any this weekend. People travel outside of Clovis to do make these types of purchases,” Estrada said, a pile of computer boxes stacked in the middle of her store. “There’s a bigger selection there.”

Other sales associates tried to stock up on niche products to compete with bigger stores, bigger malls, and bigger towns.

Dillard’s sales associate Betty Massey said customers are drawn to the department store because it stays abreast of trends, carrying popular name-brands, such as Lucky and Fossil, and chucking last year’s fads, brooches and chandelier earrings, for this year’s — big, wooden jewelry, Massey said.

“It’s nice to see people shop here instead of going out of town,” said Massey, who noticed a tangible increase in weekend sales, and was pleased, even if the increase was due to the tax-freeze.

With two boys in tow, Portales mother Donna Rutherford strolled Saturday through the mall’s hallways. Defying the travel trends some associates loathe, Rutherford said she prefers shopping close to home.

“I don’t want the hassle. And boys are easy to shop for,” said Rutherford. Her sons, Dustin, 10, and Jacob, 13, only approach shoe shopping with gusto, they said, a plastic bag slung over the shoulder of the oldest.