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“Look, Daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.” This is the famous line by Zuzu Bailey in the best holiday movie ever - It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s part of the ending of the movie that chokes me up nearly every time I watch the Christmas classic.
I’m a creature of habit. I eat a lot of the same foods, I hate getting a new car, and I watch the same Christmas movies every year. However, I did something recently that got me way out of my “habit” zone. I went grocery shopping in Denison and Sherman.
I have had multiple conversations with Durant citizens about shopping in Texas since my arrival in October of 2016. As I stated a few weeks ago, there are some myths in regards to grocery shopping across the Red River. In particular, the debate regarding “tax free” grocery stores has always fascinated me.
To be fair, we also live in a state where certain items are also exempt from sales tax. Over the past few decades, our legislators have increased the number of items that qualify for sales tax exemption from 6 in 1980 to over 150 today (cities in Oklahoma lose approximately $7.2 Billion in revenue each year from these exemptions).
Until last week, I had never gone grocery shopping in Texas. I’ve seen a lot of debate on social media recently regarding the City’s new campaign that urges our citizens to, “Keep Your Green on this Side of the Red.”
So, to make things impartial, I picked a grocery store that has a presence in all three cities. That narrowed my selection to…one grocery store (Wal-Mart). My first stop was at my local Wal-Mart-Supercenter here in Durant. I kept my budget around $50 and bought several items that one would typically make on a trip to the big blue box. Since there was a very, very small chance for some wintery weather in southern Oklahoma, I included bread and milk (2 half-gallons) in my purchase for a total of 17 items. I also included a few things we typically grab such as: laundry detergent, toilet paper, toothpaste, a box of kitchen garbage bags, etc. The subtotal was $51.23 and $4.80 in sales tax for a total of $56.03.
My next stop was to the Denison Wal-Mart (44 mile roundtrip). Having never been to the Wal-Mart in Denison, I was shocked to immediately see how small the store (99,000 square feet) was compared to the Durant store (186,000 square feet). Therefore, the selection for certain items was very limited. Some of the sections in the Denison Wal-Mart were probably a third or fourth of the size of choices shoppers have here in Durant. The sub-total was $51.11 and the sales tax was $2.47 for a total of $53.38 and a savings of $2.45.
The final stop was to the Sherman Wal-Mart (56 mile roundtrip). I had never stepped foot in their store and I would say it’s comparable to our store here in Durant. After a quick zip through the aisles, I made my purchases and the sub-total was $48.13 and the sales tax was $2.24 for a total of $50.37 and a savings of $5.66.
What did I learn from shopping journey? I learned that if you’re truly looking at the time (about an hour roundtrip) and mileage, you really aren’t saving that much by shopping across the border. If you fact, if you use the IRS mileage rate of .51 cents per mile, you are spending around $23 for each trip to Denison and $30 for each trip to Sherman.
Put on your Santa hat and imagine Zuzu Bailey growing up to be a city manager in Oklahoma, where every sales tax dollar counts. She catches a lot of grief about the conditions of her streets and infrastructure. Now imagine her saying this when she hears one of her residents talk about grocery and Christmas shopping in Texas - “Every time an Okie buys stuff south of the border, it adds to this City Manager’s anxiety disorder”. Let’s shop local and make Zuzu’s job easier and her city’s retailers can also have a wonderful life.
Tim Rundel is Durant’s city manager.