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Layaway pays off for back-to-school

Chip Ellis
Signs at Kmart promote the layaway plan: "Big style, small payments."
Chip Ellis Leona Keen (left), places several items into layaway for her son, who attends Capital High School. Stan Kipp helps her at the register while Amanda Casto, of Sissonville, takes home a large box of clothing she paid off in time for her sons' new school year.
Chip Ellis Store manager Billy Rasnake checks the clothes and other back-to-school items held in layaway at the Patrick Street Kmart.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Casto brothers -- Dylan, 12; Owen, 10; and Brennon, 5 -- are ready to go back to school, thanks to good planning by their mother, Amanda.

The Sissonville family recently paid off their layaway collection that's been stored at the Patrick Street Kmart for the past month. Amanda has been paying a bit of the total each month, and she was able to buy shorts, shirts, shoes and more thanks to the store's program.

"It's the only way I can afford to buy clothes for three boys," she said, as she hefted a large box filled with her purchases into a cart. Sixth-grader Dylan was excited about the new items.

"We came in and shopped for the stuff, and now we can wear it to school," he said. The brothers already were dreaming of Christmas -- and Amanda said she would start laying away those items soon.

Jeans, T-shirts, Capital High Cougar and South Charleston Black Eagle shirts, backpacks and dresses fill the aisles that held swimsuits and beach bags just weeks ago. Mixed in with the signs promoting back-to-school fashions and supplies are signs that read "Big dreams, small payments," describing the layaway service. Store manager Billy Rasnake showed visitors the storage room in the back of the store where layaway items are held.

"In our store area, we have year-round school, so people did shopping and layaway early," he said. "They came in wanting the backpacks, clothing. People are already starting their Christmas shopping."

A large portion of the store's back-to-school shopping is done with clothing vouchers provided by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. The state determines how vouchers are used, and West Virginia doesn't allow vouchers to be used for layaway.

Layaway payments can be made at any register, Rasnake noted. He said parents are starting to come in to layaway coats, heavier clothing, thermals, toboggans and other winter items. Kmart's sister company, Sears, offers layaway as well.

Rasnake said last year there was a group of "Layaway Angels" who anonymously paid off layaway amounts for many customers.

"They would come in and pay it down to a penny, and not ask for any recognition," Rasnake said. "It was unbelievable. We haven't had anyone do that this year, but we sure hope it will happen again."

Charleston Department Store on Washington Street used to offer layaway but has discontinued the service.

"We don't do it anymore," said Tom King, store manager. "It takes a lot of employees to try to track it, a lot of people didn't pick it up. We do it at Christmas, but not for back-to-school."

Typically, a store will ask for a small percentage of the total cost of the items as a down payment, and then payments are made over a set period of time (four to eight weeks is average).

In addition to Kmart and Sears, other area stores offering layaway include Marshall's at The Shoppes at Trace Fork and TJ Maxx at Riverwalk Shopping Center.

Gabriel Brothers and Walmart do not offer back-to-school layaway. Walmart runs its program for Christmas items from October through December.

Danny Forinash, public information officer at the West Virginia Tax Department, said there will not be a "tax-free day" this year for back-to-school shopping.

"The state did that from 2002 to 2004, based on federal regulations," Forinash said, and he added that the Tax Department will not offer the savings event this year. He said the Tax Department believes the clothing vouchers are a better way to target families in need.

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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