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As sales tax free week got under way Wednesday, a number of savvy local shoppers hit stores with a game plan.

More than 50 customers at the Marshalls store on Delaware put merchandise on hold Tuesday with plans of returning later in the week to buy it tax free.

Brenda Roman, who said her three daughters "go through clothes like there's no tomorrow," waits for tax-free days to buy their school wardrobes.

And John Garner said he'd go through the hassle of returning -- then rebuying -- clothes put on lay-away before Wednesday in order to get the extra savings.

Such strategies are expected to bring New York consumers $25 million in savings between Wednesday and Tuesday, according to the state Department of Taxation and Finance.

The state hopes that the savings will encourage an increase in retail spending, especially by shoppers who travel to bordering states such as Pennsylvania -- where clothes and shoes are always tax-free.

This is the sixth tax-free week the state has sponsored, giving shoppers a 4 percent break on the state's share of the tax on clothing and footwear purchases under $500. Most counties -- including all eight in Western New York -- have followed suit, giving some consumers savings of up to 8.25 percent.

Many area stores, anticipating more business, have added extra staff at check-out counters and longer store hours during the tax-free week.

David Ward, district manager for Big Kmart, said that he already saw an increase in jeans, shoes and sneakers sales on the first day of the tax lift.

"We had a double-digit increase during the tax-free week last year, and expect to do the same this week," he said.

Stores such as PriceLess Kids, which operates stores on Transit Road and Military Road, and Kaufmann's are offering additional savings during the week to lure in shoppers who they already expect are out to buy more.

"I just came in to buy a car seat and ended up getting some clothes, too," said Anne Cannuli, who forgot it was a tax-free day until she got into the Kmart store on Delaware Avenue. "It makes a difference, and usually leads me to buy a little bit more than normal."

Other retailers, who sell items that aren't eligible for the sales tax lift, are making efforts to attract consumers, too.

La-Z-Boy Furniture and Factory Warehouse Sales, for example, are mimicking sales tax savings by offering their customers 8 percent off furniture purchases.

A seventh, and perhaps final, sales tax free week is planned for Jan. 15-21. After that, the state has said it will permanently eliminate sales tax on clothing and footwear purchases of less than $110 on March 1.

The elimination, originally scheduled for Dec. 1, was pushed back so the state could take in about $150 million in tax revenue from the 1999 Christmas shopping season, officials said.

"Sales tax adds up to a lot of money," Garner said. "If you have four or five kids to get ready for school, you could be spending up to $400. Even saving eight percent can help."

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