COLLEGE PARK – As parents and students prepare to buy supplies before the first day of school, Comptroller Peter Franchot visited three area businesses in College Park on July 30 to promote shopping at smaller, independent stores during Maryland’s upcoming Tax-Free Week.
More than seven percent of the state’s 579,173 small businesses work in retail according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Independent stores compete with online retailers and big-box stores, like Walmart and Target, on a daily basis for customers’ attention.
Franchot said he hopes as the annual tax-free season will bring needed revenue to these community establishments.
“(Independent stores) give great customer service and have a great relationship with the citizens and residents of College Park and the region; so, come down here and shop here,” Franchot said. “Yes, during Tax-Free Week, you can save money…but the main thing is you want to support these brick and mortar stores. Without them, our streets would be empty with tumbleweed blowing down.”
The state’s comptroller first visited Stripe 3, a clothing store that has been open since 1984. The store, which carries Adidas clothing and sporting apparel, relies on word-of-mouth and providing good customer service to keep customers returning to their location, co-owner Anna Lee said.
“You really get the one-on-one and physical attention in a store like this rather than some of the big-box stores or shopping online via Amazon,” City Councilmember Monroe Dennis said. “That’s what I would recommend for (locals) as a driving force to do this.”
During Tax-Free Week, shoppers will pay no sales tax on clothes and footwear less than $100. According to Franchot, this year will also mark the first time that customers will not be charged sales tax on the first $40 of a backpack purchase after an amendment was passed by the state’s legislature last year.
Franchot said while he feels disconnected from the state lawmakers based on the bills passed, results of the past Tax-Free Weeks have shown that it is a boost to Maryland’s economy. The state does not lose much money as people shop during the period because items outside the qualified list are still being purchased, Franchot said.
“If they ever repeal it, the voters are going to repeal the legislature, so they better be careful because people love this,” Franchot said. “And I am delighted that it will be a stimulus for businesses like (Stripe 3) and it benefits all of Maryland because not only does it benefit the consumers it boost revenue for the retailers.”
The Maryland Retailers Association will be giving away a $2,500 scholarship to an area college student who posts a photo or video on social media of their back-to-school purchases during the week using the hashtag #shopmdtaxfree. It must have a Maryland theme to qualify Maryland Retailers Association Legislative, Membership Director Maddy Voytek said.
Margarita Torres, 38, travels from Washington, D.C. to College Park frequently to shop for her four sons at Stripe 3. As Franchot finished his presentation, he spoke with the Torres family and gave three of the boys a comptroller’s medal. With school quickly approaching, Torres said she sees herself shopping not just in Stripe 3 but the state as a whole because of the variety of stores.
“They use regular clothes in their school, and they are going to need a variety of things,” Torres said. “It’s good that the Tax-Free Week is coming soon and since (Stripe 3) is (her sons’) favorite store, I know that will be back here for school clothes.”
“I would urge Maryland citizens to do the right thing and shop local. You don’t have to stop everything local but make a big chunk of your shopping trip local and keep these small businesses prosperous,” Franchot said. “They are the heart and soul of the state’s economy and are under a lot of pressure now because of the competition of technology and out of state companies. So why not back them up?”
The state’s comptroller made a stop at Duvall Field to see the upgraded concession stand and plaza area, which was renovated by the city and county at a total cost of $1.2 million thanks to a Program Open Space grant. He then presented Woods Flowers and Gifts’ owner Barbara Wood a proclamation to commemorate the business’ 80th year in College Park.
The day ended with a visit to Proteus Bicycles, an independent bike shop that has been opened since 1972, to present co-owner Ben Bassett a proclamation recognizing the business for “its contributions to the local community.” The shop was voted Best Bike Shop and Best Social Ride for their Sunday Morning Coffee Ride by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association in 2016.
Bassett said the shop has been doing well even with the introduction of bike shares and has notice Franchot’s push for more support for independent businesses since during the winter. While he usually shies away from politics, he appreciates the comptroller’s support of the shop as it competes with large companies, like Dicks’ Sporting Goods.
“Bikes, like cars, need service and we are nearby (the University of Maryland) campus for service down the road,” Bassett said. “The quality of the bikes (here) are better, the assembly of the bikes are better and, in some cases, the bikes are not that much more expensive (than our competition).”