Just about everyone next weekend will divide themselves into two camps: those who'll take advantage of the sales tax holiday and those who won't go anywhere near a shopping center.

South Carolina's annual tax holiday starts Friday at 12:01 a.m., when the state's 6 percent sales tax is suspended on dozens of back-to-school-themed items.

The sale runs non-stop until the clock strikes midnight Sunday.

Even better for local shoppers is that all of the local sales taxes in place throughout Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties are suspended as well.

Among the items exempted are: bookbags, clothes, computers and printers, shoes, hats and school supplies of all kinds.

Not exempted are camping equipment, cookware, cosmetics, toys, furniture and jewelry, among others.

In all, the exemption will save South Carolina consumers -- and at the same time deny the state's revenue account -- about $2.8 million.

Besides being a bonus for cash-strapped families, consumer trend experts say the holiday has a way of building upon itself. Store visitors seeking bargains often dabble into other purchases. And local businesses are known to play along as well, cutting prices elsewhere and generating pre-sales advertising.

"I think it's just that everybody is out shopping and enjoying the break," said Brian Gunnells, owner of Once Upon a Child in West Ashley, where he said his business increased between 20 to 30 percent during the sale last year. He hopes for the same this weekend.

Local savings are expected to be significant. The National Retail Federation's recent Back-to-School survey estimates the average family will spend $606.40 on back-to-school merchandise this year, meaning the sales tax holiday will save the average South Carolina family more than $30.

Marianne Bickle, director of the University of South Carolina's Center for Retailing, said the sale is good news across the state and is an indicator from the top that the state's economy is at least on the mend.

"Our government is saying 'we're still going to do this,' " she said, while other states, such as Michigan, are in severe financial doldrums.

Georgia suspended its version of the tax-free weekend because of its budget woes, something that could benefit merchants in South Carolina's border counties.

Bickle suggests extra bargains can be had by pursuing in-store or online coupons. "Really plan ahead and don't just get caught up in the moment," she said. And stick to your shopping list.

Buyers in the past have been known to hit different stores, such as a Walmart or Target for school supplies, and local electronic or chain stores for deals on electronics.

Despite its popularity, though, some say the holiday has gotten out of control, and that there are more exemptions than what lawmakers initially envisioned.

The state's Tax Realignment Commission recently recommended lawmakers rein in the some of the exemptions on the tax-free list and stick to items that have a proven use in the classroom, such as computers, paper and pencils. The group suggest cutting everything else, including the exemption for bedding, clothing and bath mats and towels.

Others say a strong holiday is needed now more than ever. J.J. Darby, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said a weekend of tax relief means a late- summer cash-kick for small businesses trying to navigate the lingering recession.

Sales tax holidays "get people excited and in the mood to shop, and that's exactly what our economy needs right now," he said. "The bottom line is that the more we can increase consumer spending at our small businesses, the more jobs we save, and the faster our economy will recover."

South Carolina's annual back-to-school "Sales Tax Holiday," the three-day sales and use-tax break on traditional school purchases, is Friday through Sunday.

During the weekend, sales and use tax is lifted on purchases of clothes, shoes, school supplies, bookbags, computers, computer parts, printers and more. South Carolina shoppers typically save about $2.8 million in sales tax during the event.

The popularity of the tax-free weekend has made it the third-busiest shopping period of the year, exceeded only by the weekend after Thanksgiving and the weekend before Christmas.

South Carolina adopted the sales-tax holiday in 2000 and in following years, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee also have implemented similar tax-free weekends.

This year, North Carolina and Tennessee will hold their tax-free weekends at the same time as South Carolina. According to the Georgia Department of Revenue website, there will not be a back-to-school sales tax holiday in Georgia in 2010.

No new items were added to the list of exempt items this year and a complete list of the exempt items, and a listing of frequently asked questions about the event, is available at the South Carolina Department of Revenue website, sctax.org, under the "What's New" section.