Think twice about a clothing sales tax

Wednesday April 24, 2013

I'd like to encourage our state senators to challenge the pending legislation that was recently passed by the Vermont House and would add a sales tax to clothing over $110 in Vermont. We carry a lot of quality clothing from brands like The North Face, Patagonia, Mountain Hardwear, and many more that this tax would affect. It would certainly send more local shoppers across the river to save on such clothing, especially during the holiday shopping season when business is most crucial. In relation to our southeastern position in Vermont, the only people that could eventually gain from such legislation would be our neighbors in tax-free New Hampshire.

I'm the third generation operating Sam's Outdoor Outfitters on Main Street in Brattleboro. Our store, established in 1932 by my grandfather Sam, has been struggling to stay in business since the state sales tax was first introduced. My father has worked at Sam's for 55 years and I've been here for more than 30. When I started in 1982, 100 percent of our business was in Vermont. Now less than 50 percent of our sales are in Vermont and still trending away. In 1986, four years after I had joined my father at Sam's, he bought land in Chesterfield and was planning on moving our whole operation across the river. I tried to talk him out of it, and eventually we got an opportunity to take over our cousins' store in Keene and I was able to convince him to stay in Brattleboro. Any of you that know him probably can understand how hard it was to convince him.

Over the years we've both watched as our legislators have instituted, raised, lowered, and raised, etc. the sales tax in Vermont. As a direct impact of that sales tax, we've watched our business along with a great number of other businesses leave Vermont for New Hampshire. It is my goal not to go out of business. That goal necessitates turning a profit. Last year we had a flood and suffered a huge loss as a result. We then had the worst winter ever, as we had no snow and the tourists didn't show for foliage or skiing. This past year was a bit better, but by no means a good winter.

I know that everyone is already going across the river (including our state legislators) to make many purchases. There are many things you can't even find in the Brattleboro area at this point. Last year we sold 400 kayaks in our Keene store and a mere 26 in Brattleboro. I'm betting that many of the people that drove to Keene to buy them also stopped somewhere for lunch or dinner. Some had to get gas while there and probably shopped at a number of other stores as well.

It is not a mystery why we have no major stores moving into our area. I remember Gov. Dean coming to our Bellows Falls store for a press release when the tax on clothing and footwear was removed. We've since had to close that store. It is no mystery why we've watched most of our business leave the area. Gov. Peter Shumlin understands why. Gov. Howard Dean understood why. I'm not sure how anyone who's lived here couldn't understand why. If you want more business to leave southeastern Vermont and if you want everyone that lives here to do even more of their shopping in New Hampshire than they already are, go ahead and support another tax on clothing. If you don't, figure out how to reduce the tax we already have and see if in the next decade we might move in the right direction. All you need to do is look at Brattleboro vs. Keene, Bellows Falls vs. Walpole, and White River Junction vs. West Lebanon. It couldn't be any clearer. The stretch of land just across the river in Hinsdale is just waiting, probably not for long.


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