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

Email: sthurston@tampabay.com

Twitter: @susan_thurston

  1. Amazon to start collecting sales tax in Florida on May 1

    Retail

    Planning to buy something on Amazon? Better "add to cart'' now because the cost of most items is about to go up at least 6 percent for shoppers in Florida.

    The online retail giant said Wednesday it will start collecting sales tax from Florida customers on May 1.

    For many customers in Florida — including ones in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties where the overall sales tax is 7 percent — that means the cost of a $16.95 book will go up by $1.19. In Hernando, where the tax is 6.5 percent, the increase will be $1.10....

    Amazon could begin hiring people in late summer to work at the sprawling Ruskin center, according to Hillsborough County’s top building official.
  2. 'Cavernous' Amazon warehouse in Ruskin is well under way

    Retail

    TAMPA — Amazon is racing to complete a massive warehouse in southeastern Hillsborough County in time for the holiday shopping rush and likely will end up hiring even more people than the 1,000 originally planned.

    Jim Ford, interim head of the county's building and construction services, said Tuesday that crews have erected the 1.1 million-square-foot building and are working on the interior. He expects that the building will receive a partial certificate of occupancy in the late fall and could start processing orders by Christmas....

    Construction is well underway on the new Amazon Warehouse being built in Ruskin.
  3. Thurston: Fired St. Petersburg worker target of J.C. Penney dispute

    Retail

    In the scheme of J.C. Penney's problems, Bob Blatchford might seem like a mismatched sock in a pile of laundry.

    Yet the department store chain is waging war against the former St. Petersburg employee who went on national TV last summer to spout off about Penney's questionable sale pricing.

    J.C. Penney says Blatchford has confidential customer information — home addresses, credit cards numbers, etc. — that he won't give up....

    J.C. Penney’s dispute with former St. Petersburg employee Bob Blatchford comes as the chain is still struggling to regain customers lost when the company stopped its discount offers and coupons under CEO Ron Johnson, who was ousted last year.
  4. Ground-breaking set for Bass Pro Shops in Brandon

    Retail

    TAMPA — More than a year after Hillsborough County officials approved a $6.25 million subsidy to bring a Bass Pro store to Brandon, construction is about to begin.

    David Verardo Development said Monday a ground-breaking for the project will be April 24 at the Estuary shopping complex across from the Westfield Brandon mall. Also headed to the center is the area's first TopGolf, a sport entertainment complex....

    This Bass Pro Shop in Orlando is among nine stores in Florida. Three others are in the works, including the Brandon store.
  5. Big crowd gets skinny on new Spanx store at International Plaza

    Retail

    TAMPA — More than 100 people squeezed into the new Spanx store at International Plaza on Friday.

    Spanx founder and Clearwater native Sara Blakely, the world's youngest self-made billionaire, thanked the crowd for its support.

    "This is such a full-circle, pinch-me moment," said Blakely, whose husband, son, mother and grandmother attended the "hosiery cutting."

    Even Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, one of the few men in the crowd, took part in the festivities, saying as a father of two daughters he was thrilled to celebrate a female entrepreneur. ...

    Spanx founder and Clearwater native Sara Blakely welcomes shoppers to the grand opening and ribbon cutting for the new Spanx store at International Plaza in Tampa on Friday.
  6. Employees' passion for products reaps rewards for Container Store, Bill Jackson's

    Business

    One store focuses on the outdoors. The other focuses on the indoors. Both succeed by putting employees first and letting their people's passions take care of sales. At Bill Jackson's, employees share an enthusiasm for camping, hunting and other adventurous pursuits. At the Container Store, it's about organizing, decluttering and creating the perfect home. The result is a satisfying work environment for both retailers considered by many as destinations, not just places to shop. The Container Store in Tampa ranked seventh among Tampa Bay's top workplaces for small employers. Bill Jackson's was 24th....

  7. Mosaic phosphate company mines happy employees

    Business

    LITHIA — For employees, working at Mosaic isn't just about mining potash and phosphate and turning it into fertilizer.

    It's about feeding a growing population and helping farmers reap more food from every acre of finite crop land.

    "The world needs us,'' goes the corporate mantra.

    The top U.S. producer of potash and phosphate fertilizer employs about 1,200 people in Hillsborough County, making it one of the largest private employers in the region....

    Employee Eddy Fontana works out last month in the gym at Mosaic’s Lithia office, one of the perks the company offers.
  8. Walmart goes crunchy with low-priced organic foods

    Retail

    Low prices and organic food.

    They usually don't go together, but Walmart wants to change that.

    The giant retailer, in a move to grab even more grocery dollars, announced Thursday it will carry Wild Oats organic products at half of its stores nationwide. That includes nine supercenters in the Tampa Bay area.

    "We don't think our customers should have to pay high prices to put food on their family's table and organic products shouldn't be an exception," said Danit Marquardt, a spokeswoman for Walmart, based in Bentonville, Ark....

  9. Apple Store in Tampa closed for remodeling until May 23

    Retail

    TAMPA — In the market for a new iPad? Don't try getting it at the Apple Store at International Plaza.

    The store is closed for remodeling through May 23. A sign on a temporary black wall covering the storefront tells customers to visit the area's other Apple Store at the Westfield Brandon mall.

    "We're making this store better than ever for our favorite guests — you."

    Apple officials have been mum about the project and didn't return messages seeking comment. A peek inside revealed the entire store has been gutted — floor, walls and ceiling included. The store closed March 31....

  10. Spanx founder Sara Blakely celebrates opening of store in Tampa

    Retail

    Clearwater native Sara Blakely built an empire selling undergarments that make butts look small and tummies look tight. Women everywhere strut with confidence, thanks to her shapewear, hosiery and bras.

    About a year and a half ago, Blakely opened her first Spanx store at an upscale mall in Virginia, outside Washington, D.C.

    On Friday, she brings it all back home.

    Fourteen years after starting Spanx, Blakely is opening her sixth standalone store, this one at International Plaza in Tampa, near her old stomping grounds. For local fans, it's like a homecoming for a small-town girl who went big. As in billionaire big. Last year, Blakely became the world's youngest self-made female billionaire. In February, she appeared on the cover of Inc. magazine....

    Spanx founder Sara Blakely will kick off opening festivities at International Plaza at 10 a.m. Friday. Spanx products also are sold at more than 11,500 department stores, boutiques and online shops. 
  11. St. Petersburg prosthetics manufacturer endures decade-old patent fight

    Business

    ST. PETERSBURG

    For 20 years, ALPS South has focused on making liners that cushion prosthetics for amputees, controlling a sizable share of a $100 million-a-year niche market.

    For almost half that time, the small manufacturer has been snarled in a legal death match with its principal competitor, which claimed the Florida company stole the rights to some of its products. Rather than settle, ALPS fought back. ...

  12. Converting Sweetbay stores into Winn-Dixies a 'Herculean' effort

    Retail

    When Winn-Dixie's parent company announced it was buying Sweetbay supermarkets and turning them into Winn-Dixie stores, customers had two big questions:

    Are you keeping the employees? And will the pretzels, pineapples and other products stay in the same place?

    Winn-Dixie said yes to both.

    Bi-Lo Holdings, the Jacksonville-based parent company, is converting 72 Sweetbay stores into Winn-Dixies as part of its recent purchase of 165 Sweetbay, Harveys and Reid's grocery stores from Delhaize America....

  13. Bitcoin virtual currency a reality for one Tampa Bay restaurant (w/video)

    Retail

    Nick Pappas is the kind of guy who waits in line overnight to buy the latest iPhone.

    He likes bonding with other gadget geeks. With every new product, he sees new opportunity.

    So when he started hearing about bitcoins, he was intrigued. A digital payment system that doesn't go through a bank or a middleman sounded revolutionary and made sense.

    Pappas monitored the bitcoin market as the value fluctuated sharply, from $100 to $1,100 per coin, based on the latest news about the virtual currency. When the price hovered around $400, he bought two bitcoins from Coinbase, a San Francisco-based digital wallet company for buying and paying with bitcoins....

  14. AT&T opens new 'Store of the Future' in Tampa

    Retail

    TAMPA — AT&T wants customers to know it isn't just about cellphones.

    It's also about home security systems, photo scanners and headphones — all connected with the touch of a smartphone.

    To better highlight all its products, AT&T has designed a new retail store devoted to people's mobile lifestyles. Displays show how products can be incorporated into everyday lives at work and at home....

    AT&T will open its “Store of the Future” in Tampa on Tuesday. It has an open floor plan with community tables and pavilions.
  15. Winn-Dixie readies to rebrand Sweetbay stores

    Retail

    Say goodbye to Sweetbay supermarkets. Months after Bi-Lo Holdings announced it was buying the Sweetbay stores and converting them into Winn-Dixies, the end is finally here.

    Stores in southeast Hillsborough County and St. Petersburg close Saturday and will reopen as Winn-Dixies April 4. Stores in Tampa and the surrounding area close April 5 and reopen April 11.

    Clearance sales are under way, with My Essentials, Hannaford and other Sweetbay-branded items 25 percent off. That's a great deal, considering generic brands are already cheaper than name brands. I scored a box of Tasteeos cereal for $1.78 and a two-liter of diet ginger ale for 63 cents....