It will be Christmas in August at JCPenney and other retailers this weekend.

Like other merchants ready to embrace the throngs of shoppers who have been absent most of the year because of the recession, Cindy Mowry, store manager at JC Penny at Northwoods Mall, is expecting the state's tax-free weekend to produce the best sales since the lackluster holiday season nine months ago.

Tax-free weekend starts at midnight tonight and runs through Sunday.

"Every single person we have on staff will be working this weekend," Mowry said.

The store will triple its staff for the holiday weekend to about 150 salespeople, all wearing red shirts so customers can find them easily. It's also extended its hours, opening earlier and staying open later all three days.

"We can look at our history of sales by hour, and we need all those hours," Mowry said.

Everything from shawls to shower curtains will be tax- exempt across the state for three full days.

The one-weekend, state- sponsored promotion will cost the state about $2.5 million in tax revenue, but the National Retail Federation believes it will help move merchandise, providing a lift to customer-starved retailers and their suppliers and manufacturers that could ripple through the economy.

"At this point, anything that brings consumers into the stores is good for retailers," said Ellen Davis, vice president of the National Retail Federation. "Retailers will come with aggressive promotions."

The Ben Silver Corp. is among those with steep discounts.

Tax-free weekend coincides with the clothing merchant's semi-annual warehouse sale, and owner Bob Prenner is expecting a huge turnout at his new warehouse location at 287 East Bay St. in downtown Charleston.

"We can do more business on one of these weekends than we do in a year," he said. "Everything is on a very deep discount. We are looking forward to a very good turnout."

JCPenney is among those stores with deep markdowns as well, with clearance items marked up to 70 percent off and newer items priced up to 55 percent off.

"This will be the best weekend to save," Mowry said. "These are the days when everyone is looking for every penny."

Reach Warren Wise at 937-5524 or wwise@postand