Passed into law a decade ago, the Mississippi Sales Tax Holiday always felt a bit incomplete for back-to-school shoppers. While consumers would buy clothing, shoes and some accessories without paying state sales tax, school supplies were oddly left out.

But that changed this year, and now notebooks and binders, art supplies, backpacks, calculators, pencils, pens, markers, glue and even textbooks are now on a list of school supplies eligible to be tax-free.

Laptops and computers, however, still are not included, as they go over the $100 threshold.

This year's sales tax holiday begins Friday at midnight and ends Saturday at midnight.

And retailers are expecting a busy weekend.

At Reed's in downtown Tupelo, racks of backpacks are strategically placed near the doors. But even without the sales tax holiday, backpacks have always sold well. Now there's even more of an incentive for consumers to buy them.

"We found out even in the 1980s when we first started carrying brands like North Face and Patagonia that they sold well," said Bennett Mize. "In the '90s is when backpacks really exploded as a back-to-school crucial item. They're so great and getting even better. Nowadays a backpack can not only survive any given kid's school year, but you could climb Mount Everest if you wanted to."

The National Retail Federation is projecting that the total back-to-school spending for this year will be $80.7 billion. Spending is expected to increase $40 more per family, with the average total climbing to $507.

Parents are going to spend $212 on clothes, $209 on electronics and $104 on shoes. This doesn’t include incidentals throughout the year which are also part of the school expense.

And while some items are exempt and others are not from the state sales tax weekend, some retailers make shopping easier by making everything tax-free in the store.

"It makes it easier for us to remember," Mize said, "plus, it makes it more of an incentive for customers to buy from you."

At The Mall at Barnes Crossing, general manager Jeff Snyder said the nearly 90 stores and shops inside there also are ready for another hectic weekend.

"We're extremely excited with the expansion of the items on the tax-free holiday," he said "It's something we've wanted done for years, and it helps us compete with other states."

In Tennessee, for example, during its sales tax hiatus also this weekend, computers, laptops and tablets with a purchase price of $1,500 or less, apparel and school supplies with a purchase price of $100 or less per item, are exempt from state sales tax.

Alabama had it's tax-free holiday this past weekend, and there, school supplies are covered, as are computers, software and computer supplies costing $750 or less.

Snyder said the mall has a variety of local and national retailers offering special sales to complement the tax-free weekend.

"We've got clothing and items for kids if they're brand-conscious or even if they're not," he said. "You can go anywhere in the mall and get what a teenager wants. Kids buy what they want and go where they want and they have options. When competing against other states for shoppers, if we didn't have those key brands, they wouldn't be shopping here and would be going elsewhere. It's good to be a destination."

Snyder said the mall has gotten a taste of what the weekend will be like, as the back-to-school shopping buzz has already started.

"We start seeing that around the early part of July, and we've seen some strong traffic during the week and the weekends leading up to now," he said. "We hope this coming weekend will just build on that momentum."

dennis.seid@journalinc.com

Twitter: @dennisseid

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