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. Lazydays to star in new Travel Channel show about buying an RV

    The Feed

    SEFFNER — Shopping for an RV at Lazydays is the focus of a reality show premiering Sunday on the Travel Channel.

    Big Time RV takes viewers behind the scenes of the country's largest recreational vehicle dealership as customers tour and test different makes and models, from $18,000 travel trailers to $1 million tour buses.

    The half-hour premiere, which airs at 8 p.m., follows a single father looking for a camper to wow his daughter in time for her birthday and two friends on the hunt for a million dollar party pad on wheels. A second episode will air at 8:30....

    Jack and Phyllis Fredericks, of Chatham, N.Y., look at Fleetwood RVs  at the Lazydays RV SuperCenter in Seffner in this 2009 file photo.
  2. Former Gator, NFL star Crawford Ker sells WingHouse to grow it


    After 20 years in the business of chicken wings, beer and sexy waitresses, Ker's WingHouse has a new owner. But Big Daddy remains in charge.

    Third Lake Capital has acquired all 24 locations of the Largo-based restaurant chain from Crawford Ker, pro football player turned restaurateur. Ker is staying on as CEO because, really, without Ker, the WingHouse wouldn't be the WingHouse.

    By selling it, Ker hopes to expand it, both in Florida and other states where no one knows "we serve 'em naked'' refers to skinless drumettes, at least on first reference....

    Former Florida Gator Crawford Ker started WingHouse in 1994.
  3. HSN's Mindy Grossman a hot commodity among retailers


    These days, retail big shot Mindy Grossman is hotter than any skinny jean, perfume or kitchen appliance sold on HSN.

    Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported the CEO of HSN Inc. was in negotiations with J.C. Penney Co. to become its CEO but turned it down. Before that, she was rumored to be a top candidate for Target's CEO job. Two years ago, Avon came knocking.

    Even if the talk is just talk, it's clear that Grossman could get a new job whenever she wants....

    Mindy Grossman, CEO of St. Petersburg-based HSN Inc., earned $13.8 million last year, making her the highest-paid CEO of any public company in the Tampa Bay area. She sits on the boards of the National Retail Federation, UNICEF and Tampa-based Bloomin’ Brands.
  4. Amazon sales growing but still behind top retailers


    You might call Amazon the Napoleon of retail — aggressive by nature but relatively small in stature.

    Despite all the talk about how Amazon has revolutionized shopping and sent brick-and-mortar stores into a tizzy, the online retailer is not as big as you might think.

    The latest Top 100 list of largest retailers ranks Amazon ninth in U.S. sales, behind Walgreens, Home Depot and other retailers considered more mundane than planet changing....

    An employee stocks books last winter along one of the many miles of aisles at an fulfillment center in Phoenix. A similar center is being built in Hillsborough County for the company, which is now among the top 10 U.S. retailers.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.''...

  8. 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....

     Pablo Bicca drinks water during Cheryl Eisenstein's cardio kickboxing class at the Youfit Health Club in Carrollwood June 25, 2014. "I like that this place is clean and that the staff is helpful," The Carrollwood location is the 70th health club from the St. Petersburg-based chain. said Bicca.  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.
  9. 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]
  10. 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....

  11. 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)]
  12. 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.
  13. 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]
  14. 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.”
  15. 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....