JJ Vincent goes shopping for school supplies in bulk, to topple stereotypes as much as anything.
Unless you’ve been living completely isolated from the rest of America, you’ve probably heard that the busiest, scariest, craziest shopping days of the year are The Day After Thankgiving and The Day After Christmas. I’ve been to both. Many times. And I won’t disagree. But my vote for #3 is Back-to-School Tax-Free Weekend in Alabama.
A little background: For first weekend in August in Alabama , most of the state charges no sales tax on school-related items, including the usual things like pens, pencils, lunch boxes, folders, backpacks, etc. But it also extends to clothes, shoes, and most computers.
So let’s do the math. National retailers cut their prices and some offer special “penny” or “quarter” items (usually with limits, minimum purchases, only on certain item/sku #s, or other fine print). Computers up to a certain dollar amount are tax-free. Each school has a different supply list for each grade. And when you are outfitting one or more kids for school, 8-10% savings adds up.
Let the feeding frenzy begin.
By mid-weekend, aisles are packed with mostly moms, many with kids and strollers in tow, trying to manage supply lists and baskets. Items are scrambled on shelves, someone has left a soda on top of the stack of composition books, someone else is screaming because the price came up wrong, people are gazing hopefully into empty bins, the laptops and tablets have all mysteriously powered down, the store staff is trying to maintain order…and you are a lone man, grinning, gleefully pushing a basket full of school supplies, heavy on the only remaining colors-hot pink and pale orange-topped with a bargain bag candy.
Do you want to stop people dead in their tracks? This will do it. You’ ll be looked at with a mix of disbelief and suspicion. You’ll hear a few whispers. People will subtlely reroute their children. Those two teenagers over there will point and snicker. Someone is sure to ask you how old your kids are and when you say you don’t have any, the conversation will end, because while people are great at making assumptions, they are not as good at blurting out genuine questions. Your complete lack of shame or apology will confuse them, as will your excitement at finding the last two packs of 15 cent pencils and the last $1 box of 64 crayons. When you give a loud fist-pump “YES!” as someone puts back a $2 24 pack of clicker pens and you snag it, heads will turn and a path will clear. When a kid asks you a question about where something is, his parent will shush and remove him. The other lone man in the store, standing next to you by the erasers, complains under his breath that he just needs register tape but he can’t find it in the chaos and slinks off, and you mumble the expected sympathy while keeping you eyes peeled for a left pack of 1cent graphe paper. You see it and maneuver through carts, scooping it up with victory fists while people stare. In men-should-act-like-men land, solo guys shopping for school supplies with enthusiasm that should be reserved for a winning touchdown in the last 2 seconds is just not right. Especially not when his toenails are painted blue, a gift from his friend’s little girl.
But it does get better. The biggest, the best payoff of the weekend is when you go to check out, and the cashier asks, “How many kids do you HAVE?”, you reply none, and they ask, “Then what….?” And you get to tell them that you are donating everything to _______ charity. Or that you are a teacher. Or that they are for a friend who homeschools. Or that you run a tutoring program. Or that you are going on a missionary trip. Or that you are shipping the load to the tornado zone in Oklahoma. And suddenly the three women behind you, who gave you the stink-eye 10 minutes earlier before pulling their children closer to them, get very, very, very quiet.
photo by sunshinecity / flickr