BACK TO SCHOOL: RING IT UP; SALES TAX HOLIDAY - Many Area Stores Will Not Be Charging Sales Taxes on Some School Items for Three Days.; RETAILERS' DELIGHT - Season Is Second-Biggest Shopping Event of Year for Retailers, and the Forecast Is Good

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This summer, Dylan Wallach's elementary school is offering a pre- packaged bundle of school supplies to make back-to-school shopping easier on families.

But the Clayton fifth-grader and his mother, Cindy, decided instead to hit the stores themselves so they could pick out the items together.

"It's a fun tradition," said Cindy Wallach as she stood near a wall of rainbow-colored markers and crayons at the Walmart store in Maplewood.

Yes, it's that time of year again - time to pick out glue sticks, composition notebooks and superhero-themed backpacks.

To help parents, Missouri holds an annual sales tax holiday, which runs Friday through Sunday, on certain items such as computers, software, school supplies and apparel. Illinois is not holding a similar event this year.

While students may not yet be ready to say goodbye to the summer, retailers are all smiles about the impending arrival of the new school year, which marks the industry's second-biggest shopping event of the year after the winter holiday season.

Coming on the heels of lackluster sales during this summer's heat wave, this back-to-school shopping season is forecast to be significantly bigger than in recent years.

Part of the boost is because of demographics: There has been an increase in the number of families with school-age children. But parents also are tired of skimping and making do with what's already in their children's closets as they've done the past few years, said Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation.

"You can only go for so long with a ripped backpack and the now- out-of-date electronics you've got," he told reporters during a recent conference call.

Parents are expected to spend an average of $689 on their children in grades K-12 and $907 on college students - up 14 percent and 12 percent, respectively, from last year's estimate, according to the National Retail Federation. Total spending is expected to be $83.8 billion.

ADDING INCENTIVES

According to the deal-tracking website dealnews.com, August is typically the best month to get promotions on back-to-school items.

With Missouri's upcoming sales tax weekend, some retailers are trying to lure more shoppers by sweetening the deal with extra promotions.

For example, Sam's Club won't charge nonmembers the typical 10 percent upcharge in its Missouri stores or online this weekend. Office Depot will keep its Missouri stores open later than normal - until midnight on Friday - with a special coupon for $10 off a $50 purchase of supplies between 9 p.m. and midnight.

Owen Torres, a company spokesman, said the retailer wanted to do something special this year because it has had such "overwhelming response" to tax-free weekends in previous years.

"It's an extra convenience for shoppers," he said of the extended hours. "We have parents who are working (during the day) and customers are busy during the summertime."

Not surprisingly, parents are planning to do more of their back- to-school shopping online this year, with about 40 percent of shoppers saying they plan to do some shopping online, compared to 31 percent last year, according to the National Retail Federation. …