Monday, August 08, 2011

8 AUG 11: Three For the Money

It's the first day of a new school year in Muscogee County -- and this year, teachers and administrators may be under as much pressure as the students to succeed. After all, you can't spell "paycheck" without A.Y.P....

So how many Muscogee County parents drove to east Alabama over the weekend to save money on back-to-school items? The sixth annual "sales tax holiday" ended Sunday night -- or as some Alabama Republicans now call it, Bob Riley's revenge for the Georgia lottery.

Since I'm a blogger on a budget, I drove to Phenix City Sunday to take advantage of the tax-free holiday. It's not that I'm going back to school -- even though I realize some readers consider me seriously lacking in education about how local governments really operate.

The shopping list in my head had several needs, and most of them qualified for tax-free pricing. So why not take advantage of the special weekend in Alabama -- before a lower national credit rating makes my savings accounts evaporate completely?

My tax-free shopping trip went up the 280 Bypass, beginning at Big Lots. The real need here was for whole wheat bread, since we established here last year Big Lots has the lowest loaves on the local landscape [25 May 10]. Those last few words are offered for area speech and debate teachers....

No, bread was NOT included in the Alabama sales tax holiday. I realized that before I walked out the door -- but come to think of it, why shouldn't it be? Don't Alabama educators agree with the idea that youngsters need a good breakfast to succeed in school?

But anyway: I walked into Big Lots to find NO whole wheat bread on the shelves. That combined with two long checkout lines to end the first stop in a hurry. Big Lots simply isn't set up for lots of big business.

(Oh yes - unlike three weeks ago, the Phenix City Big Lots had NO roving beggars in the parking lot. Either a lack of sales tax finally reduced the price enough for them, or they didn't have to worry about their tax receipts getting forward to police detectives.)

Stop two: Kmart across U.S. 80. Here I would get into the tax-exempt part of my shopping list -- but finding the things I wanted wasn't easy. Several racks were filled with "lounge wear," especially with Alabama and Auburn university logos on them. Are couples supposed to wear nightwear from opposite schools, to (ahem) enhance their passion?

But what I wanted was an old-fashioned pair of pajamas. Yes, pajamas actually were covered until the "back to school" sales tax exemption. The Alabama Department of Revenue must be encouraging student lock-ins to raise money for charity.

Pajamas were nowhere to be found at Kmart - so I settled for a reversible leather belt. The pieces of my current belt always have split in two, even though I don't wear a belt that often. Maybe I'm on the right track, by not grabbing so much food at the church snack table.

Kmart tends to have felt-tip Paper Mate "Flair" pens which I like, but the Phenix City location didn't seem to have any. The school supply area had plenty of look-alikes, including fluorescent highlighters and permanent markers. One would be too bright for my notebooks, while the ink from the other bleeding through pages wouldn't be too bright at all.

So with the belt safely in my trunk, I moved on to the final stop: the Phenix City Wal-Mart. As expected, I found the "madhouse" here -- with parking spaces scarce and big crowds around the school supply section. At least there was no sign of anyone being trampled under my feet....

The Paper Mate pens were missing at Wal-Mart, too - but I found something else I needed much more: a new pair of court shoes. They're Starter "white athletic Elis." I think that means they're endorsed by that quarterback for the Giants.

The athletic shoes seemed like a steal to me at 18 dollars -- and then I couldn't resist checking something else nearby. Wal-Mart was selling reversible leather belts for ten dollars, while the very same one I bought at Kmart cost $12.99. You try to give the little guy a chance, and look at what happens....

I would have been happy to head home with the athletic shoes - but at the last minute, I found my other need: Hanes pajamas for $15.64. They're basic light blue, as opposed to Alabama crimson or Auburn orange. I'm not the sort of person to host college football or basketball parties on Saturday nights, anyway.

The three items I bought in Phenix City cost $46.63 - with not one penny paid in sales tax. Assuming the new 0.75 percent city sales tax increase is in effect, I saved $4.08 in sales taxes. That would have paid for three loaves of whole wheat bread at Big Lots - with my old court shoes slowly deteriorating while I stood in line.

But a thought occurred to me as I made these Sunday rounds. I'd visited the only three big department stores in Phenix City. Large national "big box" stores have planted roots at Tigertown in Opelika and Columbus Park Crossing, leaving Phenix City virtually ignored. There isn't even a Gap filling that gap....

The only Columbus store which seemed to take on the Alabama sales tax holiday was Sam's Club - and its "free weekend" for visitors really was a nationwide promotion. Why settle for one package of ten pencils, when you can buy 48 at a time?

Columbus residents who didn't want to drive across the river had several opportunities to pick up free school supplies. One giveaway occurred Sunday at South Columbus United Methodist Church -- where I received a small plastic tool box on Men's Day in 2004 [21 Jun 04]. If I had known something finally was coming to fill up the box, I wouldn't have passed it along to another charity.

Here's a little more for your reading comprehension skills, as we wrap up the weekend....

+ A Lee County judge decided prosecutors in the upcoming trial of Phenix City Councilor Arthur Sumbry Sr. cannot bring up his prior convictions. OK - but can they point to Sumbry Mortuary, and claim he's also morally bankrupt?

+ The Challenger Space Science Center hosted its annual "comic book convention." In a year with movies based on The Green Lantern, The Green Hornet and Captain America, you'd think this crowd already has met several times at Hollywood Connection.

+ A federal jury in Montgomery spent a third day in deliberations in the bingo corruption trial. Hmmmm - do you think one of the jurors snuck in a pair of dice, to use as a tiebreaker?

+ WRBL showed football practice at Calvary Christian School, which will play its first high school games this fall. One senior talked of putting opposing players "flat on their backs" - and I somehow don't think he means healing them with a touch from the Holy Spirit.

+ The Atlanta Hawks indicated control of the basketball team and Philips Arena is being sold to California businessman Alex Meruelo. Meurelo's projects include a restaurant chain called La Pizza Loca aimed at Hispanic people, and including refried beans as a topping. That could make the luxury box experience a lot more interesting....

+ Instant Message to whomever approved a sign on Veterans Parkway pointing to "North Side High School" and "North Side Elementary": Did you bother calling the school district office first? For one thing, it's called North Columbus Elementary -- and there's already enough spelling confusion along Forrest Road.

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