Tax-Free Weekend for Downward Economy

With the current economic crisis
worsening seemingly by the day, many
people are practicing frugality more than
ever. Businesses across the country are
feeling the blunt effect of this decision,
as sales have dropped precipitously.
On April 4 and 5, Santa Monica's
Montana Avenue held its annual Tax-
Free Weekend in an effort to get people
back into stores.

The event, which was started a few
years ago, serves as a treat to shoppers
just prior to Tax Day. Merchants paid
for the sales tax on items at participating
stores between 6th and 17th Street.
The residents of Santa Monica
certainly looked as if they could
afford to shop, as luxury cars lined
the sidewalks in front of high-end
stores with immaculate landscaping.
Pedestrians decked out in stylish duds
walked up and down the streets of what
some have called "the Rodeo Drive of
Santa Monica."

Lisa Norman, owner of her eponymous
lingerie store, said that business was
"pretty good" during the event. With
brands such as Calida, Triumph and
Chantelle carried in her store, Norman
said that her prices range from "very
affordable to very expensive."
However Norman and her store are not
immune to the effects of the economy.
In the months preceding the event, Norman said that business had been
"down" and "not what it should be."

Although, there is one particular item
that appears to keep drawing customers
to Norman's store.
"I would think that right now always
the biggest seller is Hanky Panky
g-strings," said Norman. "All the young
kids love it, and I even have some people
who are close to 80 who wear them,"
Norman said.
Merchant Eric Gilbert also saw a spike
in foot traffic in his store, Weathervane
For Men. The store, a men's boutique,
carries brands such as Robert Graham,
and has prices ranging from $85 to $135
for short-sleeve shirts.

Despite the boost to his store from
the Tax-Free Weekend, Gilbert couldn't
help but notice the lack of activity in
the general area. "I think it was up for
us, but the street has been slow," said
Gilbert. "We're competing with a lot of
other areas."
Marilyn Lawrence recognizes her
competitors. Lawrence, the owner of
maternity clothing store Mom's the
Word, pointed out shifting trends in
addition to the economy as causing her
sales to diminish.
"The regular styles work for maternity
right now," said Lawrence, who
experienced a rise in foot traffic during
the event on Saturday. "They have for
the last year or so. There are high-waist
tops, low-waist pants, so that works for
maternity. They're going that way,"
Lawrence said.

Some merchants have grown too
discouraged with the lack of income
to continue operating. One merchant
decided to shut down after failing to
make payments on the monthly $6,000
rent. "The landlord was going to take
me to court," said the merchant, who
requested anonymity. "I don't have the
money in my personal account to do it
anymore," said the merchant.
Quite a few stores had leasing signs
visible in their windows. Other stores
had signs promoting going-out-ofbusiness

One such store, Jeany, had a sign
advertising its closing sale, with
everything marked 60 to 80 percent
off. Shopper Maria Velasquez took
advantage of the opportunity.
"This is the only store I bought
something at today," said Velasquez,
22. "Everything else around here is too
expensive," Velasquez said.

The recent tax increase is making
those expensive items even pricier,
along with everything else. The increase,
which went into effect April 1, raised
sales tax in L.A. County from 8.25
percent to 9.25 percent. One merchant
said of the hike, "it's really only going
to make things worse."
Even with the bleakness of the
situation, merchants still try to find a
silver lining. "We're optimistic, we
think positive," said Norman. "This
too shall pass."