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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. Latest retail destination: big new mall in Sarasota


    SARASOTA — The Tampa Bay area hasn't had a new major mall since 2008, when the Shops of Wiregrass opened in Pasco County.

    But, if you're willing to expand your horizon a bit, there's one opening a straight shot to the south.

    The Mall at University Town Center opens Thursday in Sarasota, at Interstate 75 and University Parkway. It's a 50-mile drive from downtown Tampa and about 39 miles from downtown St. Petersburg....

    The 888,000-square-foot mall is bright and airy, with a 1,100-foot-long curved skylight and color-changing LED lighting system.
  2. Data breaches inevitable, cybersecurity conference at USF told


    TAMPA — When it comes to protecting companies against data breaches, experts say it isn't about stopping them. It's about minimizing the damage.

    "Breaches are inevitable,'' said Jamey Dillon, senior manager at the security consulting firm Mandiant. "Our object is to make them as difficult as possible for (hackers) to do.''

    Dillon was among several presenters at the Florida Center for Cybersecurity conference Wednesday at the University of South Florida. The state-funded center was established earlier this year at USF to help position Florida as a national leader in cybersecurity. The school's new master's degree program in cybersecurity prepares students for industry certification....

    WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 27:  National Intelligence Director John McConnell (C) testifies before a full committee hearing by the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill February 27, 2007 in Washington, DC. McConnell testified during the open hearing on current and future worldwide threats to the national security of the United States, including the situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)  Local Caption  John McConnell
  3. VaporFi seeks to open more e-cigarette stores in Tampa Bay area


    If they haven't already, vape shops are coming soon to a strip center near you.

    Vape shops — those small stores selling electronic cigarettes and nicotine-laced liquid — are springing up everywhere, becoming as commonplace as nail salons and dry cleaners in many retail centers.

    The reason is pretty clear. The market for electronic vapor products is expected to exceed $2 billion this year and climb to $10 billion by 2017. That's for both the disposable e-cigs sold at convenience stores and the more expensive, refillable devices sold at vape shops....

    The market for electronic vapor products is expected to exceed $2 billion this year and climb to $10 billion by 2017. []
  4. Walmart stops matching Florida competitors' buy-one-get-one offers


    BOGO is a no-go at Walmart.

    Starting Monday, the discount retailer will no longer match buy-one-get-one free offers at competitors' grocery stores in Florida, including Publix, its top rival.

    Instead, Walmart wants shoppers to use its price matching program called Savings Catcher, which rolled out nationwide in August.

    "Matching BOGO offers at Walmart's everyday low price has been a test that has only been executed in Florida stores,'' said Walmart spokeswoman Molly Blakeman. "With the introduction of Savings Catcher we have decided to end this test and align the policy in Florida with Walmart's company policy.''...

    Walmart says that ending the buy-one-get-one free program aligns its policy in Florida with company policy. The change disappointed some bay area shoppers.
  5. 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)]
  6. 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, right, pictured alongside WTSP anchor Reginald Roundtree. [Heather Van Nest]
  7. 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....

  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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)]
  11. 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)]
  12. 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....

  13. 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....

    Customers pack the Apple Store early Friday at International Plaza in Tampa, waiting for their chance to buy a new iPhone 6 the first day it was available. [DEMETRIUS FREEMAN   |   Times]
  14. 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.
  15. 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....