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

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  1. Economy hits the gas: More buyers seeking high-end RVs with all the comforts of home

    Business

    SEFFNER

    For Doug and Nicki Craig, the ''aha'' moment came in 2007.

    He felt terrible. It was his heart. After triple bypass surgery, he and his wife vowed to start enjoying life to the fullest. They didn't want any regrets.

    They bought a 27-foot Winnebago and took trips across the country as their work schedules allowed.

    The more they traveled, the more they fell in love with the lifestyle. They could bring their dogs and move at their own pace. They didn't have to mess with booking flights and hotels....

     The exclusive swimming pool for Lazydays Crown Club members at  Lazydays The RV Authority in seffne Saturday August 23, 2014. Lazydays is seeing a large rise in the number of high-end motor homes costing more than $350,000.
  2. After rough times, talk of optimism by Florida shopping center leaders

    Retail

    ORLANDO — After a long, hard climb out of the recession, Florida shopping center officials are seeing better times ahead.

    The state's growing population, stronger consumer spending and tourism have helped boost demand for retail space this year, said Abigail Rosenbaum, a senior economist for CBRE, a commercial real estate company. More than anything else, consumer confidence will have the most impact on retail in the next two years....

    COMING TO YBOR: A 7-Eleven is scheduled to open Friday on Seventh Avenue, across from Centro Ybor.
  3. Ulele restaurant unveils native-inspired menu

    General

    TAMPA — The much anticipated Ulele Native-Inspired Food and Spirits serves four kinds of oysters: on the half shell, in kale and apple cabbage cups, charbroiled with garlic and cheese, and fresh as a shooter, with or without tequila.

    Eat one and you're biting into Tampa's history.

    The entire menu of the restaurant opening Tuesday in Tampa Heights pays tribute to early-Florida Indian fare and the pioneers who came later, from jalapeno corn beer biscuits to crackling port shank and alligator hush puppies....

    Nikki Alaee, left, and Maggie Philbin chat with a waiter as they enjoy specialty drinks from the bar during the menu preview Sunday night at Ulele in Tampa. The restaurant opens Tuesday.
  4. Walmart looks to Neighborhood Markets to boost lagging sales

    Retail

    TAMPA — Bigger isn't always better, even when it comes to Walmart.

    The world's largest retailer is looking to its bite-sized Neighborhood Markets — like the one that opened Wednesday along Gunn Highway, north of Tampa — to boost lagging sales and better compete against aggressive rivals.

    The stores are part of Walmart's plan to broaden its customer base and win back shoppers who have flocked to fast-growing dollar stores and other discount retailers. In Florida, of course, the retailer is also trying to take away business from Publix, the state's top grocer....

    Nhi Nguyen shops for produce at the new Walmart Neighborhood Market along Gunn Highway in Tampa on Wednesday.
  5. Digital currency and bowl backer Bitcoin seeks to broaden its appeal as a form of payment

    Business

    ST. PETERSBURG — Beer, museum tickets, hotel stays and hamburgers.

    Those are some of the things now available for purchase in St. Petersburg using bitcoin.

    BitPay, a bitcoin payment processing company, said Friday it hopes to have 100 local businesses accepting the digital currency in time for the Dec. 26 Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl — an NCAA-sanctioned post-season college football game....

  6. Wake up: Orlando chain to open Keke's Breakfast Cafe in Tampa

    Retail

    A new breakfast spot opening in Tampa is out to prove that the first meal of the day isn't just the most important, it's the best.

    Keke's Breakfast Cafe, a popular Orlando chain, is expanding into the Tampa Bay market with a new restaurant scheduled to open in mid to late September in Carrollwood. It's taking over the former CiCi's Pizza space in the shopping center with Bed Bath & Beyond and Fresh Market, at N Dale Mabry Highway and Fletcher Avenue....

  7. Busch Gardens' Falcon's Fury misses opening in time for summer crowds

    News

    TAMPA — Busch Gardens is getting ready to open what was intended to be its top summer attraction — just as kids head back to school.

    Park officials said Wednesday the long-awaited Falcon's Fury is opening soon but didn't have a specific date because operators are still doing ride training.

    It must be close, though, because park president Jim Dean rode it this week and lived to talk about it....

    Visitors walk past the closed thrill ride Falcon's Fury with a posted sign stating "The opening of Falcon's Fury has been delayed. We apologize for the inconvenience," at Busch Gardens Wednesday . [DEMETRIUS FREEMAN   |   Times]
  8. Sundial's timepiece in St. Petersburg is accurate for solar time

    Retail

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Does the sundial anchoring new downtown shops actually keep time?

    "This very expensive sundial is about one-half of an hour off," a reader recently complained in a letter to the Tampa Bay Times. "Is that the best St. Petersburg can do?"

    Never one to waste time, developer Bill Edwards assigned his team to research the issue during construction of his aptly named, soon-to-open Sundial shops....

    The sundial pictured in the center of the courtyard at the Sundial complex  in downtown St. Petersburg Tuesday afternoon. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times ]
  9. Busch Gardens' Falcon's Fury misses opening in time for summer crowds

    Attractions

    TAMPA — Busch Gardens is getting ready to open what was intended to be its top summer attraction — just as kids head back to school.

    Park officials said Wednesday the long-awaited Falcon's Fury is opening soon but didn't have a specific date because operators are still doing ride training.

    It must be close, though, because park president Jim Dean rode it this week and lived to talk about it....

    Visitors walk past the closed thrill ride Falcon's Fury with a posted sign stating "The opening of Falcon's Fury has been delayed. We apologize for the inconvenience," at Busch Gardens Wednesday . [DEMETRIUS FREEMAN   |   Times]
  10. Sundial lineup has some bright spots

    News

    The soon-to-open Sundial in downtown St. Petersburg has an interesting mix of tenants. Some are pretty notable, like Lululemon, the wildly popular yoga apparel store, and Locale Market by famous chef and restaurateur Michael Mina.

    Others leave you wondering, "Is this the best they could come up with?''

    In the big scheme of retail, probably, yes.

    Even with the uptick in the economy, retailers are still cautious about expanding. The rise in online shopping has prompted many stores to close weak locations or shrink their square footage. Just because a retail center wants a Z Gallerie home decor store doesn't mean it's going to get one....

    The Sundial pictured in the center of the courtyard at the Sundial complex (formerly BayWalk) in downtown St. Petersburg Tuesday afternoon (08/12/14). Why is SunDial's sundial so off in telling accurate time? It isn't - it's more accurate than our own watches (and smart phones.)
  11. Sundial strives for top tenant mix in a tough retail environment

    Retail

    The soon-to-open Sundial in downtown St. Petersburg has an interesting mix of tenants. Some are pretty notable, like Lululemon, the wildly popular yoga apparel store, and Locale Market by famous chef and restaurateur Michael Mina.

    Others leave you wondering, "Is this the best they could come up with?''

    In the big scheme of retail, probably, yes.

    Even with the uptick in the economy, retailers are still cautious about expanding. The rise in online shopping has prompted many stores to close weak locations or shrink their square footage. Just because a retail center wants a Z Gallerie home decor store doesn't mean it's going to get one....

    The Sundial pictured in the center of the courtyard at the Sundial complex (formerly BayWalk) in downtown St. Petersburg Tuesday afternoon (08/12/14). Why is SunDial's sundial so off in telling accurate time? It isn't - it's more accurate than our own watches (and smart phones.)
  12. Changes could be in store for Walmart's BOGO matching policy

    Retail

    Something seems to be going on with Walmart's policy of matching BOGO deals at Publix.

    In the past few weeks, I've received a bunch of calls and emails from shoppers who heard Walmart is either ditching the buy-one-get-one-free deal or tightening the rules.

    One caller who shops in the Valrico area emailed me a copy of what looks like a store memo for employees about how to honor BOGO deals. It said BOGO deals now match the competitor's price — not Walmart's — meaning the second item isn't free but, instead, the difference between the competitor's price and Walmart's....

    When asked if Walmart was changing its BOGO policy, a store clerk said it ends in October, which is exactly a year after it started. [AP photo]
  13. Decluttering is cool? Junk removal business buried in a heap of success

    Business

    When Troy White bought a 1-800-Got-Junk franchise nearly 10 years ago, he spent a lot of time educating people on how the junk-removal business works.

    "People didn't know the market existed. It wasn't really branded as a professional service,'' he said. "A lot of people thought we were junk collectors.''

    Early on, his operation was small enough that White rode around on a truck, collecting old furniture and whatever else a customer decided had to go. The finds occasionally shocked, like the time crews picked up a casket — thankfully minus a body — or a life-size dummy of Frankenstein, which now stands guard at the company's warehouse in Tampa. They call him Frank....

    Franchise owner Troy White, left, and Shane Sewell carry a sectional sofa out of a garage in Lutz. Sofa removal by 1-800-Got-Junk starts at $75.
  14. HSN CEO Grossman says her 'commitment is here,' not retail

    Retail

    ST. PETERSBURG — Mindy Grossman, in response to national reports that she could be leaving HSN Inc. to become head of a major retailer, said Thursday "my commitment is here.''

    Although HSN's CEO stopped short of saying she would never leave the home shopping network, she said that, professionally and personally, her commitment remains with HSN and the team she has assembled over the past several years....

    HSN CEO Mindy Grossman’s name has popped up as a potential leader at retailers. 

  15. Bloomin' Brands stock pummeled after report of weaker second quarter

    General

    TAMPA — Bloomin' Brands expected business would rebound after harsh winter weather kept diners away throughout much of the country.

    But it hasn't. Instead, traffic at its U.S. restaurants was flat, based on its second-quarter earnings report released Tuesday. Domestic sales were up just 0.6 percent.

    "We're not satisfied with our results this quarter," CEO Liz Smith said in a conference call with analysts....