VYING FOR SALES

"Big savings on name-brand furniture," claims the classified advertisement, one of many placed locally by companies from North Carolina.

"We can meet the North Carolina discounters' prices," observes Les Gage, owner of Gage Furniture in Austin, "except for the sales tax. That's where we get killed."

Sales taxes in Texas (6.25 percent) and Austin (2 percent) add more than $400 to the bill for a $5,000 dining room suite purchased from Gage Furniture. Savvy customers realize that retailers buy identical merchandise from manufacturers.

Although those manufacturers require their retailers not to advertise outside a defined market area, North Carolina retailers get around that by advertising "national brands" and urging readers to call an 800 number for details.

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