Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Upcoming freshman at Georgia Tech Alykhan Lalani and his mother Samina Ali shop for a new laptop computer at Best Buy on Woodward Crossing Boulevard in Buford on Friday. For the first time since 2009 Georgians participate in a tax-free holiday for back-to-school items. Customers also shopping Barbara Westmoreland and Henry Rambharos.
BUFORD -- It was called pandemonium, and compared to Black Friday by one retail manager. A Mall of Georgia spokeswoman said storefronts were spruced up with plenty of eye candy.
Most everyone could agree that the state's first sales tax holiday since 2009 brought crowds of shoppers who looked to take advantage of extra savings. The Governor's Office of Planning and Budget estimated the two-day holiday, which began on Friday and runs through midnight on Saturday, will save Georgians up to $66 million.
"It will be pure pandemonium," Buford Best Buy general manager Elliott Stevens said of the expected crowds today. "This is like Christmas in the summer."
The holiday, which began in 2002, and was stopped in 2010 because of state budget cutbacks, applies to school supplies that are $20 or less per item, clothing and shoes that are $100 or less per item, and computers and some computer accessories that are $1,000 or less.
"The reinstated sales tax holiday is an opportunity for Georgia families to fulfill some of their needs as our students go back to school," Gov. Nathan Deal said in a statement. "While our state's economy continues to grow, we will continue to work in a pro-family and pro-business manner to lessen the burden on Georgia taxpayers."
Stevens said this weekend was the only time other than Black Friday that all 25 employees who work in the computer section of the store would work.
Planning for the tax holiday began about three months ago, Stevens said.
"It's kind of bittersweet," he said. "We love the extra business, but it does require an extra amount of planning to help this number of customers."
Carol Cox, the director of marketing and business development at Mall of Georgia, said the mall sees an increase in shoppers and buyers this time of year.
"The retailers definitely have their displays looking fabulous," Cox said. "They have a lot of sales, and eye candy to draw the shoppers in there, and they're being very competitive with each other, which is great."
Sugar Hill resident Myra Galloway, who shopped Friday afternoon at the Best Buy store across from the Mall of Georgia, said she's looked for about a year for a personal computer to pursue her hobby of writing.
She looked forward to using voice-activated software to dictate word processing.
While this is the first time Galloway has taken advantge of the tax holiday, she said her sisters and son have in the past.
"I think it makes a difference," she said. "I wish it was spread over a few more items."
The holiday was precisely why Flowery Branch resident Keith Puckett and his family bought a computer mouse from the Buford Best Buy on Friday, and not earlier in the week.
The tax holiday offers tax exempt status to electronics like computers, tablets, printers and select accessories with a sales price of $1,000 or less, according to the state Department of Revenue.
Clothing (including footwear) with a sales price of $100 or less per item is also included. The exemption excludes clothing accessories such as jewelry, handbags, umbrellas, eyewear, watches, and watchbands.
Other items included are general school supplies to be used in the classroom or in classroom-related activities with a sales price of $20 or less per item.
Other exempt items range from baby clothes to diapers, football pads, roller skates, formal wear and lingerie.
The exemption excludes cellular devices, furniture, and computer-related accessories designed for recreational use.
Some have questioned the timing of the holiday since Gwinnett County Public Schools began the new school year on Monday, and many families have already purchased most school supplies. Neighboring states like Alabama and South Carolina had similar tax holidays last weekend. But several school districts in counties around the metro Atlanta area had not returned, such as Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fayette, Fulton and Carroll Counties.
A similar tax holiday on energy-efficient products is scheduled for the first weekend in October.