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by Emma Brown

Savvy shoppers crowded Boston-area malls and stores yesterday, taking advantage of the state’s fifth annual sales tax holiday and saving 5 percent on items ranging from school supplies to expensive electronics. Retailers, fearful that the sluggish economy would keep spending down, were relieved.

“We are extremely busy,” said Mohammed Azad, manager of Sears at CambridgeSide Galleria, where families pored over gas stoves and examined refrigerators. Nearly 100 of his 135 employees were on hand yesterday to handle customers – three times a normal Saturday’s staffing. And by 10:30 in the morning, the store – having opened two hours early at 7 a.m. – had racked up nearly twice its usual sales.

Retailers have come to depend on the two-day sales tax holiday to spur spending, while consumers have come to expect it. Items priced up to $2,500 – except specialties like gas and tobacco – are tax-exempt. Since clothes are always tax-free, big draws yesterday were appliances, computers, and furniture.

“We’re going to come back again tomorrow” for a stove, said Mariam Haddad of Somerville, who waited until this weekend to buy a crib for her day-care business and a digital camera for her 14-year-old daughter.

Sale tags on televisions at the Galleria’s Sears store helped divert Allan Janik of Somerville from his original buying mission.

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