Charlie Baker touts local business, urges residents to ‘get out and shop’ on tax-free weekend

BELMONT, MA. – AUGUST 25: Gov. Charlie Baker gives an update on the COVID-19 response efforts as well as encouraging consumers to shop locally during the upcoming tax free weekend during an availability at the Belmont WheelWorks bicycle shop on August 25, 2020 in Belmont, MA. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
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Gov. Charlie Baker has one message for you this weekend: Mask up and spend some money.

Aug. 29 and 30 will mark the 14th sales tax “holiday” in Massachusetts since 2004, a chance to buy anything under $2,500 free of the state’s 6.25% sales tax.

“We would urge you to get out and shop and to shop safely,” Baker said. “Wear a face covering and maintain social distancing.”

“A tax break’s always good for the taxpayers, obviously,” Baker continued. “But this year in particular, we really want everybody to think about taking advantage of the chance this provides for you to go to shop in your locally owned, locally operated businesses in your community.”

Baker also announced Tuesday the state is launching a $2 million ad campaign called My Local MA, which will run through the end of the year, encouraging residents to shop, dine out and travel at local stores and destinations they’ll be able to find at FindMyLocalMA.com.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said the administration plans to use $500,000 from the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism and $1.5 million from the federal coronavirus relief fund to run print, television, radio and online ads, from Friday through the end of the year.

“This year, we’ve asked a tremendous amount from our business community, and we’ve been glad to see so many shops and local businesses get creative and find a way to adapt and evolve,” Baker said during a visit to Wheelworks, a Belmont bicycle shop that has remained open throughout the pandemic by offering curbside service.

But the governor acknowledged the state’s shutdown of nonessential businesses and phased reopening during the pandemic forced many owners to make “difficult decisions,” including laying off staff and, in some cases, closing for good.

By offering curbside service, Wheelworks managed to survive.

“We’re one of the winners in retail for the last 5 1/2, 6 months,” said Clint Paige, the company’s president. “Our customers seemed to love our product during this particular down time, when they had more time.”

But Paige said many businesses weren’t so lucky.

“Hopefully, they’ll be patronized heavily this weekend,” he said. “Do whatever you can to recognize the fact that there are a lot of people out there still hurting.”

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said half of its 4,000 members are operating at reduced capacity. And only 20% said their business from March to July either equaled or exceeded last year’s, although that was an improvement over June, when only 8% said they were doing as well or better than last year.

“People need to shop like jobs depend on it,” Hurst said, “because they do.”