(News-Press) Tax-free shopping is supposed to get people prepared for the hurricane season, but this incentive may not be enough to lure skeptics to the stores.
Complacent Southwest Floridians haven't seen a hurricane make landfall since Wilma in 2005. And without these high winds entering the Gulf of Mexico, people might not be racing to stock up on hurricane supplies during the nine-day sales tax holiday.
"The majority of people will wait until there is a pending threat, and we'll be ready for them as well," said Michael Wynn, president of Sunshine Ace Hardware.
Sunshine Ace Hardware stores are bulked up on inventory and ready to assist customers.
Continuing through June 8, shoppers can make tax-free purchases on hurricane supplies such as flashlights, batteries, weather radios and generators. But this holiday does not apply to sales in a theme park, entertainment complex, public lodging establishment or airport. It also doesn't apply to the rental or repair of tax-free items.
The sales tax holiday is expected to save Florida taxpayers about $4.2 million.
And Wynn anticipates it will bring his business a bump in sales; however, he also suspects many people will hold off until a hurricane is headed their way.
"Most people, I think, do become complacent," he said.
Aaron Gallaher, communications director for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said the sales tax holiday is an opportunity to promote hurricane awareness and to ensure that Floridians are prepared.
"It's very important for people to be prepared," he said. Adding, "There's always a chance that one will strike."
And there's a concern, he said, that people aren't preparing because of the state's lull in hurricane activity. They may have forgotten what a hurricane is like.
"There's a little bit of that hurricane amnesia that occurs over time," he said.
So even though the Atlantic hurricane season is forecast to be near-normal or below-normal by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center, Gallaher emphasized that it only takes one storm. He encourages people to buy supplies, create a hurricane plan, know their evacuation route and make plans for pets.
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Ron Wotring, store manager for Lowe's near the intersection of U.S. 41 and Gladiolus Drive in south Fort Myers, said there's always a strong surge of shoppers at the beginning of hurricane season.
"I think that the tax holiday will increase that significantly," he said.
And while nothing compares to the deluge of shoppers when a hurricane is headed this way, Wotring said he's expecting a good amount of business. The store is stocking up on batteries, flashlights, generators, gas cans and other supplies in advance of the season.
One item not qualifying for a tax exemption is hurricane shutters. Yet Brian Rist, president of The Smart Cos., said the tax holiday will indirectly benefit his business. The Smart Cos. offers hurricane fabric shutters and other hurricane protection products as well as energy efficiency products.
So although consumers won't visit The Smart Cos. for their tax-free shopping, he said the holiday does raise awareness on hurricane preparedness. And anything that prepares people for hurricane season, he said, "it's just a benefit for all of us."
The staff at Family Hardware, which has locations in Cape Coral and North Fort Myers, is trained to answer hurricane preparedness questions.
General Manager Erik Stange said he thinks the tax holiday is a great idea.
"I think the tax-free [shopping period] will give people the incentive to stock up a little bit," he said.
The year after a major storm hits, he said people buy a lot of supplies. But right now there's a lull in hurricanes, so he said people haven't been stocking up as much. Stange hopes they'll take advantage of the tax-free period.
And Wynn, with Sunshine Ace Hardware, said many of the hurricane supply items are small and easy to store. They're items that will be used at some point, so consumers should take advantage of this tax-free shopping.
But either way, he emphasized the stores are ready and filled with inventory.
"We'll be bulking up like we always do ahead of the season," he said.
A nine-day sales tax holiday for hurricane supplies began Saturday and continues through June 8. According to the Florida Department of Revenue, these tax-free items are:
Selling for $10 or less:
• Reusable ice (reusable ice packs)
Selling for $20 or less:
• Any portable self-powered light source
• Battery-powered flashlights
• Battery-powered lanterns
• Gas-powered lanterns (including propane, kerosene, lamp oil, or similar fuel)
• Tiki-type torches
Selling for $25 or less:
• Any gas or diesel fuel container (including LP gas and kerosene containers)
Selling for $30 or less:
• Batteries, including rechargeable batteries and excluding automobile and boat batteries. Must be these sizes: AA-cell, C-cell, D-cell, 6-volt, 9-volt
• Coolers (food-storage; nonelectrical)
• Ice chests (food-storage; nonelectrical)
• Self-contained first-aid kit (already tax-exempt)