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Exemption skirts attention; Few shoppers aware of state's tax break on clothes purchases

The elimination of the state's 4 percent sales tax on clothes and shoes costing up to $110 seemed to have almost no effect Sunday on shoppers' buying habits at a handful of major stores in and near Walden Galleria in Cheektowaga.

Most of the shoppers interviewed said they were unaware of the tax elimination and that it wouldn't have made much difference if they had known about it.

County sales taxes, which usually run about 4 percent, will remain in effect throughout most of the state. The combined state and county sales taxes on most items added about 8 percent to the purchase price paid by consumers.

In Western New York, Chautauqua County is the only county that is raising its exemption on clothes and shoes up to $110, making it the only county in the region that now has no state or county sales tax on such purchases.

Most clothes sold in nearby Pennsylvania also are exempt from sales taxes.

Until Saturday, clothes and shoes costing up to $50 were exempt from the New York State sales tax. That exemption was increased Sunday to $110.

"We're always busy on Sundays, and I haven't noticed much difference today," said an employee at Macy's, but she said no official management spokesperson would be available for comment until today.

"The real difference will come when the duty limit is raised for Canadian shoppers, and they will be able to take home $200 worth of duty-free merchandise," she added.

Canadians make up a large share of the purchasers at stores in Erie and Niagara counties.

Canada's new federal budget, unveiled Thursday, will permit each Canadian who has been outside that country for more than 24 hours but less than 48 hours to return with up to $200 worth of duty-tax exempt purchases, up from the present limit of $50. That means a family of five could return with $1,000 worth of duty-free merchandise purchased here.

Those who have been outside Canada for more than two days but less than seven will be permitted up to $800 per person in duty-free imports, up from the present $400. The exemption for more than seven days will go to $800 instead of the present $750.

The new rates for Canadian imports will become effective June 1. Import limits for tobacco and alcohol, however, will remain unchanged.

A customer service representative at Macy's agreed that "a greater impact probably will be noticed here when the Canadian import duty is increased."

A shopper who was checking out dress shirts with his sons in the men's clothing department at Macy's said, "I didn't even know there was a change in the state sales tax. We're just shopping today because it's raining outside and there is no baseball game to watch."

Jim Bielawa of Lancaster, who was looking at men's suits, said: "I didn't know about the tax change, but it's a rainy day, so it's a good day for shopping."

Joseph F. Niezgoda III of West Seneca, an insurance account executive, said he, too, didn't know there was a change "but I don't think a $4 reduction would make much difference on a $100 purchase."

A Town of Tonawanda woman who was shopping with her family in the women's dress department at Lord & Taylor agreed. "I didn't know about the tax change but that didn't affect our shopping today."

Susan Carpenter, a sales manager for men's and children's clothing at the J.C. Penney store said the only comment she heard from customers was: "I was here the other day, and the price was different. What happened?"

Carpenter explained that the store's cash registers were reprogrammed at the corporate level to accommodate the change, "and I don't know how big a job that was."

Maria Musial of Cheektowaga, a checkout clerk, said some customers asked whether the change was in effect on Sunday, and whether the county sales tax still was in effect.

A man from Toronto carrying an armful of new dress shirts said: "I'm from Canada, and we come here three or four times a year to shop, but I didn't know anything about the tax cut. I don't think a $4 tax cut on a $100 purchase would make much difference, though."

Some retailers around the state said they doubted that the expanded tax exemption would do much to increase their sales.

A manager on duty at the nearby Target store on Walden Avenue said nobody there was authorized to comment.

He noted, however, that a red and white sign still was on display just inside the front doors announcing the previous $50 state sales tax exemption for clothes and shoes.

"Our [outdated] sign is still up. We'll have to take it down," he said.