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. Winning over Tampa Bay market won't be easy for Winn-Dixie


    When Winn-Dixie took over Sweetbay supermarkets in April, it swapped the signs and shopping carts but basically left the stores the same.

    Shoppers saw the same faces working the registers and stocking the shelves. Every item from peanut butter to popcorn stayed in the same spot.

    Long term, Winn-Dixie hoped to narrow gaps between stores and gain market share in an area dominated by Publix and, to a lesser but growing degree, Walmart. It wanted to succeed where Sweetbay had failed....

    A Winn-Dixie sign is installed on the former Sweetbay at 2139 34th St. N in St. Petersburg on April 2. The signs and shopping carts are about the only differences in the takeover.
  2. Ybor City cigar factory fuming over proposed FDA rules


    TAMPA — Eric Newman says taking cigars out of Ybor City would be like taking wine out of Napa Valley or Disney World out of Orlando. You just can't do it.

    But that could very well happen, he says, if the Food and Drug Administration approves tighter regulations on tobacco products that would treat cigar manufacturers like cigarettemakers.

    The president of J.C. Newman Cigar Co. says complying with the proposed requirements would be so cumbersome and cost-prohibitive that the cigar factory would have to close....

    Banners erected on the clock tower of the historic J.C. Newman Cigar Co. in Ybor City urge people to comment on the FDA’s proposed rules about tobacco products.
  3. Tampa Bay's Doma Home Furnishings named Outstanding Retail Leader


    At a time when many retailers are struggling to find the best business model, David King has come up with one that works.

    And it has nothing to do with the Internet.

    Since opening Doma Home Furnishings in 2006, at the brink of the housing collapse, King has managed to stay afloat and grow. He has expanded his St. Petersburg store twice and opened a second location in Tampa.

    "We had to learn to be lean and mean,'' he said. "It was about controlling costs and negotiating the best deal with our vendors.''...

  4. Gyms, fitness centers flexing their growth muscles



    Youfit Health Clubs is a company gaining muscle.

    In the past few months, the low-cost fitness chain has opened five clubs in four states, including one in Carrollwood, its 70th overall. Next week, another opens in Miami, followed by two more in Atlanta and one in Dallas.

    Just to keep track, J.J. Creegan, Youfit's director of operations, gets an email every Monday with the latest list....

     Chris Rodriguez uses the pull up bar equipment at the Youfit Health Club in Carrollwood June 25, 2014. "I love this place. It's clean and has everything," said Rodriguez. "I can get a workout in afterwork since its on my home." The Carrollwood location is the 70th health club from the St. Petersburg-based chain.  Sunday business story about the proliferation of gyms in the area, many of them in shopping centers that used to be dominated by more traditional retailers. Need photo of the new Youfit Health Club in Carrollwood, the 70th for the St. Petersburg-based chain. Need photos of the cardio kickbox class and the overall atmosphere of the club, which is known for its green and purple colors and cleanliness. This Youfit is one of the few that offer group fitness classes as part of the regular membership. Class starts at 6 p.m.
  5. Mike Calta from 102.5 the Bone signs 5-year contract


    Radio personality Mike Calta is staying on local airwaves.

    But don't call him Cowhead. He retired the name in April and rebranded his show The Mike Calta Show.

    Cox Media Group said it has signed a five-year contract to keep Calta at WHPT-FM 102.5 the Bone. Calta was expected to announce the news today during his afternoon drive show, from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays.

    "It's a big relief,'' he said Monday while on vacation in New York. "This is my fourth contract with them, and the contracts keep getting longer. It's the company (I) want to work for for the rest of my life.''...

    Mike Calta, who retired the radio moniker "Cowhead" in April, is a mainstay at 102.5-FM. [LUIS SANTANA   |   Times]
  6. Publix to launch new website for shoppers to register for special offers


    For fans of customer loyalty programs who don't want to carry another card, Publix is launching a website that allows shoppers to register for special offers.

    Publix CEO Ed Crenshaw, speaking at the University of Florida's Retail Smarter Conference last week in Orlando, said the new site will help the company gather information and communicate with its customers without swiping a card at the register....

  7. Could HSN's Mindy Grossman be the next CEO of Target?


    HSN's Mindy Grossman is one of several names being floated for Target's top job.

    It seems doubtful Grossman would want to leave Florida for Minnesota, but she must be flattered. Target did $72.6 billion in sales last year. HSN did $3.4 billion.

    Target is said to be looking for a fresh face to run the company after booting CEO Gregg Steinhagel in May as fallout for the holiday data breach....

    Target is said to be looking for a fresh face to run the company after booting CEO Gregg Steinhagel in May. HSN's Mindy Grossman, pictured, is one of several names being floated as a candidate. [Times files (2006)]
  8. Ybor City's Guavaween gets new promoters, new concept


    YBOR CITY — Guavaween, one of the area's most famous and rowdiest parties, has new promoters who promise to revive and improve the flailing event.

    The Ybor City Chamber of Commerce has selected Big City Events and to produce the decades-old Halloween party for the next three years.

    Organizers plan to incorporate some of the party's signature elements — the Mama Guava Stumble Parade and costume contest — but keep it contained to one venue in Ybor for 6,000 to 8,000 people....

    Guavaween has seen declining attendance over the past few years.
  9. BitPay to sponsor Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl for next three years


    ST. PETERSBURG — The ann­ual college football game played at Tropicana Field has a new name: Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl.

    ESPN Events said Wednesday that BitPay, a bitcoin payment processor, will serve as title sponsor for the postseason game for the next three years, starting with this year's game on Dec. 26.

    BitPay officials said fans will be able to buy tickets as well as hot dogs, beer and T-shirts at the stadium using the virtual currency, a first for a college football event. Digital wallet companies also will be on hand to educate and set up users with the currency. ...

    The annual college football postseason game played in St. Petersburg will be called the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl for the next three years. ESPN Events announced Wednesday that BitPay, a bitcoin payment processor, will serve as the title sponsor through 2016. [St. Petersburg Bowl]
  10. Marketing association CEO: Retailers need to experiment


    ST. PETE BEACH — As president and CEO of the Global Retail Marketing Association, Stephanie Fischer rubs elbows with some of the top minds in retail. Her group's advisory board includes marketing officials from David's Bridal, Dunkin' Brands, Michael's, Havertys, eBay and Payless ShoeSource.

    Her 14-year-old association connects retailers to share and develop ways to succeed in the fast-changing world of shopping. Efforts culminate with the annual GRMA Executive Leadership Forum, held in May at the Loews Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete Beach....

    Stephanie Fischer says “big data” needs to be distilled to “smart data.”
  11. Smoking hot news: 4 Rivers Smokehouse headed to Carrollwood


    A hot new barbecue concept is headed to Carrollwood.

    Orlando-based 4 Rivers Smokehouse is opening at the Shoppes of Carrollwood, along N Dale Mabry Highway just south of Ehrlich Road.

    The Texas-style smokehouse has a hearty following, especially among brisket lovers. It has four locations in the Orlando area and one each in Jacksonville and Gainesville.

    The restaurant was founded by John Rivers, a pharmaceutical executive who started a barbecue ministry in 2004 to help a family whose daughter had cancer pay for medical bills. Five years later, he opened the first 4 Rivers Smokehouse, a faith-based company that donates to local schools and charities....

  12. Amazon's new Florida centers draw out desperate job-seekers


    Amazon has put out another "We're hiring" sign, suggesting the retail giant is close to opening its distribution centers in Ruskin and Lakeland.

    I'm not sure whether to celebrate or put my phone on mute.

    For weeks, I've been inundated with calls asking for information about Amazon. Callers read my stories about Amazon opening warehouses in Florida and think I work for the online seller....

    Amazon is offering $11 an hour for work at its new distribution center in Ruskin, and it shouldn’t have a tough time finding 1,000 workers to fill those positions.
  13. Infusion Brands seeks to revive Ronco products with Ready Grill


    CLEARWATER — Bob DeCecco grew up around the TV ad slogan, "But wait, there's more!"

    As a kid, he owned a Pocket Fisherman — the "biggest fishing invention since the hook!" — and a Mr. Microphone — "Hey, good lookin', we'll be back to pick you up later!"

    DeCecco was in awe of Ron Popeil, the face of the handy-dandy Ronco gadgets, who recently retired after 50 years....

    Nicoletta Karpathios holds the film slate to identify the scene in an informercial being made Tuesday for the Ronco Ready Grill in Clearwater. Behind her are actor Jeni Bond and Ronco brand ambassador Marc Gill, who appear in the infomercial to be shown on cable stations this fall across the United States and Canada.
  14. Busch Gardens, SeaWorld attendance down in 2013


    For fans of Busch Gardens, the numbers are as disappointing as a "closed for maintenance'' sign on their favorite ride.

    While the Tampa Bay area continues to shatter tourism records, attendance at its top attraction (aside from beaches) dropped 6 percent last year.

    That was the steepest decline of any of the top 20 amusement parks in North America and largest annual dip since the recession in 2009....

    Long lines greeted Cheetah Hunt at Busch Gardens when it opened in 2011. The debut of Falcon’s Fury has been delayed.
  15. Earl of Sandwich seeks to expand with new St. Petersburg prototype


    ST. PETERSBURG — Ten years ago, Robert Earl opened the first Earl of Sandwich shop at Downtown Disney, serving its signature roast beef, cheddar and horseradish sandwiches to tourists seeking fast, affordable food.

    Since then, the chain has grown to 28 locations, including one in London, where another Earl — the 4th Earl of Sandwich — was credited with inventing the sandwich in the 1700s....

    Earl of Sandwich, which just opened this St. Petersburg location, hopes to add 50 to 60 restaurants by the end of 2015 and is actively looking for sites in Clearwater and Sarasota.