Bear With Shopping Bags Stirs Up Tax-Free Debate

Which State Owns Tax-Free Shopping?

A new ad campaign in another continent is causing some ruffling of the feathers back here in the states as Pennsylvania stakes its claim to something that Delaware claimed a long time ago -- tax-free shopping.

It was all about advertising as a Pa. Tourism poster has made a colorful splash in England.

The posters featuring a psychedelic-looking bear carrying some shopping bags declaring “Pennsylvania. Home of tax-free shopping. And bears.”

The Pennsylvania Tourism Office spent $23,000 to post the ads on the London Tube, according to The Inquirer's Derrick Nunnally. The ads were a big hit as some people have reached out to asking about the ads, Nunnally said.

But the ads weren’t as big a hit with some people in Delaware. The First State claimed to “The home of tax-free shopping” years ago. Heck they even put the slogan on their state welcome signs.

The Delaware Tourism office fired back.

"I'm just not going to get into a dispute over who's got tax-free shopping and doesn't have tax-free shopping," Delaware's director of tourism Linda Parkowski said to the Inquirer. "Delaware is the home of tax-free shopping and has been for a very long time."

But Pennsylvania has advertised tax-free shopping in England for a long time, according to Pennsylvania Tourism Deputy Secretary Mickey Rowley.

They actually advertise all over using everything from elk to horses and buggies to advertise the Keystone State, according to their 2008 Annual Report.

But London is the perfect market for Pa. to advertise, Rowley said.

“It’s a huge market for us,” he said.

Great Britain is the biggest feeder of international visitors to Pennsylvania, according to Rowley.

There were many reasons including cheap direct flights and that you can market in English but the biggest draw is the tax-free shopping. In large part they come to Pa. to avoid paying taxes on clothing -- something available to Britons.

In stepped Red Tettemer advertising agency. In the past they helped launch VisitPa ads on London billboards, buses and the tube.

The ads seemed to be getting the message across about tax-free shopping but they also did more.

The bear ad really hit a pop culture vein with English travelers.

“We would be happy if it became some sort of American Icon,” Rowley said.

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