Susan Thurston, Times Staff Writer

Susan Thurston

A native of Rochester, N.Y., Thurston has been a reporter and editor for the Times since 2000. She covers retail and spending trends for the business section in her What's in Store column. If shopping weren't fun enough, she also writes about amusement parks.

Phone: (813) 225-3110


Twitter: @susan_thurston

  1. Publix restricts coupon use to discourage extreme couponing


    Calling all extreme couponers.

    Publix is on to you.

    Florida's largest grocery chain tightened its coupon policy Wednesday to discourage shoppers from overusing coupons and buying up everything on a shelf.

    Among the changes, Publix now limits shoppers to using eight of the same coupons per day, per household. It defines a household as a single family, meaning you can't have your 3-year-old hand coupons to the cashier at checkout. The guidelines also limit dollars-off coupons to one Publix and one competitor's coupon per day, per household. All coupons must be original, not copied, and any individual coupon for more than $5 must receive a manager's approval....

    Publix on Wednesday tightened its coupon policy to discourage shoppers from overusing coupons and buying up everything on a shelf. [Times files (2010)]
  2. Heather Van Nest off the air at WTSP in Tampa

    The Feed

    ST. PETERSBURG — Heather Van Nest has left as an evening news anchor at CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10.

    Van Nest posted a Facebook message Wednesday afternoon thanking her viewers.

    "I am excited for new work opportunities that allow for more flexibility in my family life,'' she wrote. "Working until midnight with a 1-year-old son, 3-year-old daughter and husband at home is not ideal.''...

    Heather Van Nest has left as an evening news anchor at CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10.
  3. Amazon fulfillment center in Ruskin starts shipping orders


    RUSKIN — Amazon's distribution warehouse is finally up and running in southeastern Hillsborough County.

    The online retailer said Tuesday it shipped its first item, a Disney Frozen Ice Skating Anna doll, to a customer in New York.

    Shipments began Sept. 24 from the 1-million-square-foot fulfillment center at 3350 Laurel Ridge Ave., near Interstate 75 and State Road 674 in Ruskin....

  4. Four Tampa Bay entrepreneurs named Martha Stewart American Made Award finalists


    Martha and money. What more do you need?

    That's the feeling of four Tampa Bay entrepreneurs seeking to win a Martha Stewart American Made Award. The 10 awards are given annually to small businesses devoted to quality craftsmanship and design.

    The contest is part of ongoing efforts to support locally made products and shift shoppers from mini-malls to Main Street. Thousands of business owners nationwide applied for the nearly 1,000 finalist spots, 20 of which are from Florida....

     Russ Phillips started Sunshine Dye Dream with his family in 2008. Selling mostly at local farmers markets it truly is a family affair. Everyone pitches in and helps setup and sell. They are currently developing a line of tie dye kits and instructional videos in an effort to help people to make better looking tie dyes on their own. People always ask how we get such great colors on our shirts. Our kits and videos will help folks to get the colors and results they are looking for. two local finalists for the Martha Stewart American Made Awards. sent emails to phototech. One shows Sunshine Dye Dream tie-dye shirts. Good photo is the family shot of owners Russ and Loretta Phillips and their sons, Cole (left) and Ben selling their wares. Photo is courtesy of Russ Phillips.
  5. New Walmart in east Tampa to help turn food desert into oasis


    TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn hasn't met a ribbon-cutting he doesn't like. One day he went to six, smiling for photos and speaking at each. Last week, he went to a groundbreaking of a Walmart supercenter in east Tampa, another seemingly routine event.

    His message was anything but.

    "This has been a food desert for a long time," Buckhorn said. "The folks in east Tampa have had to rely on convenience stores and get charged exorbitant prices for food that's not particularly healthy. … Now there will be healthy alternatives available."...

    Nhi Nguyen shops for produce at the new Walmart Neighborhood Market in Tampa in August.
  6. PODS wins $62 million award in trademark infringement lawsuit against U-Haul


    TAMPA — Pods aren't going the way of the escalator, aspirin and linoleum — for now at least.

    Clearwater-based PODS moving and storage on Thursday was awarded $62 million in damages in a lawsuit against U-Haul over its use of the word "pods.''

    The ruling marked a win over "genericide'' — the death of a trademarked word. PODS remains a legally protected trademark brand, even if people use the word frequently to describe a container used for moving....

    The jury decided U-Haul improperly used PODS' trademarked name in advertising and marketing materials. [Times files (2005)]
  7. Restaurants go outside the core menu items to attract new diners


    Beef 'O' Brady's is serving pizza and flatbreads. California Pizza Kitchen is serving salmon, halibut and ribeyes.

    Identity crises? Hardly. The restaurants have taken the attitude that when it comes to attracting diners, the more options, the better.

    "In the casual-dining segment, variety is a big piece of being competitive," said Chris Elliott, CEO of Tampa-based Beef 'O' Brady's. "Any casual-dining restaurant, whether it be Chili's or Applebee's or Cheesecake Factory, they all have large menus. That's part of the niche."...

    Beef 'O' Brady's is serving pizza and flatbreads in an effort to attract diners. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times (2012)]
  8. Identity theft creates havoc with tax refund


    Last week I finally got my tax refund — nearly six months after I filed my return.

    I could curse IRS bureaucrats for the delay but, really, it's not their fault. Some lowlife stole my identity and filed a return using my Social Security number.

    Sadly, I'm not alone.

    The IRS shelled out $3.6 billion in potentially fraudulent returns in 2012. That was actually an improvement over the previous year, but it's still an ugly number. The IRS identified more than 2.9 million incidents of identity theft in 2013 and has described identity theft as the No. 1 tax scam for 2014....

  9. Hundreds line up outside International Plaza for iPhone 6

    Personal Tech


    Twelve hours.

    That's how long some people stood in line to buy the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which hit store shelves Friday.

    By 8 a.m. Friday, about 400 shoppers had lined up outside International Plaza waiting for the Apple store to open. Lines also snaked around Verizon, AT&T and other wireless stores across the region.

    Many people hunkered down for the night in tents and folding chairs, dreaming about the moment when the next-generation iPhone would be theirs....

    Peter Doran
  10. Sears Auto Center closed at Westfield Countryside mall


    CLEARWATER — Sears has closed its standalone auto service center at Westfield Countryside mall as part of a nationwide strategy to save the struggling retailer.

    The Sears Auto Center closed Saturday after decades at the Clearwater mall. A mall spokesman said a new tenant was taking over the space but couldn't release the name.

    The closure is part of Sears' efforts to unload some of its vast real estate holdings by leasing space to other retailers or closing locations altogether....

    Sears Auto Center stores will soon be closing across the country as the struggling company tries to sell or lease the spaces to other retailers. Sears owns more than 700 auto centers, which are described as only marginally profitable.
  11. GreenPal app lets people hire lawn services


    Bryan Clayton knows not everyone likes to mow their lawn. But they also don't know who to hire and don't have the time to gather bids.

    That's where his service comes in.

    GreenPal connects homeowners with lawn care companies using a smartphone or desktop computer. Clayton cites Uber, a car service app, as its inspiration.

    GreenPal works like this. A homeowner posts his lawn job and companies vetted by GreenPal bid for the work. The customer chooses one and reserves with a credit card. Once the job is done, the company uploads a photo of the finished product and the customer approves the payment....

  12. Amazon fulfillment center in Ruskin nearing completion


    RUSKIN — Construction is nearing completion on Amazon's fulfillment center in southeastern Hillsborough County, which could start processing online shoppers' orders this week.

    Amazon officials haven't announced an opening date, but security guards at the site said it is scheduled to become operational on Wednesday. The parking lot had dozens of cars on Monday.

    The 1 million-square-foot warehouse near College Avenue and 30th Street NE in Ruskin is Amazon's second fulfillment center in Florida. The first, at 1760 County Line Road in Polk County, started processing orders in late August....

  13. Sears looks outside the (smaller) box to bring in revenue


    CLEARWATER — Sears has a new roommate at Westfield Countryside mall.

    It sells grass-fed beef, organically grown produce and made-to-order paninis. Whole Foods Market opens Sept. 24 in what used to be part of the Sears store's first floor. It will be the first Whole Foods in Pinellas County and third in the Tampa Bay region.

    Sears leased the space to the natural-food grocer as part of the department store's push to shed low-performing, excess space and boost cash flow. Consider it like renting out a room of your house after getting laid off. During tough times, every bit helps....

    In its latest real estate deal, Sears has leased part of the first floor of its store at Westfield Countryside mall to Whole Foods.
  14. Rebranding Restoration Hardware a good fit at International Plaza


    A major tenant is headed to International Plaza.

    The mall has a signed a tenant to take over the spot of Champps restaurant, which closed in February. Who? Mall officials won't say yet, but speculation is pointing toward a luxury furniture store, particularly a gallery-style Restoration Hardware.

    The home furnishings store has been building multistory "design galleries" with cafes, wine bars and picture-perfect displays of the store's furniture and accessories. A newly opened location in Greenwich, Conn., has a conservatory and rooftop garden with trickling fountains....

    International Plaza officials won't say yet which tenant will take over the spot of Champps restaurant , but speculation is pointing toward a luxury furniture store, particularly a gallery-style Restoration Hardware. [Times files (1999)]
  15. Catalina adds digital coupon business


    Catalina, the St. Petersburg-based global retail marketing company, is expanding its digital coupons business.

    Catalina has bought Cellfire, a top provider of online coupons redeemed through grocery store loyalty cards.

    Cellfire allows customers to download manufacturer coupons onto reward cards through a smartphone or other web-enabled device without clipping or printing coupons at home. Shoppers redeem the savings by swiping their card at checkout....