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. 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.
  2. 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....

  3. Amazon fulfillment center in Ruskin nearing completion


    RUSKIN — Construction is nearing completion on Amazon's fulfillment center in southeastern Hillsborough County, which could start processing online shoppers' orders this week.

    Amazon officials haven't announced an opening date, but security guards at the site said it is scheduled to become operational on Wednesday. The parking lot had dozens of cars on Monday.

    The 1 million-square-foot warehouse near College Avenue and 30th Street NE in Ruskin is Amazon's second fulfillment center in Florida. The first, at 1760 County Line Road in Polk County, started processing orders in late August....

  4. Sears looks outside the (smaller) box to bring in revenue


    CLEARWATER — Sears has a new roommate at Westfield Countryside mall.

    It sells grass-fed beef, organically grown produce and made-to-order paninis. Whole Foods Market opens Sept. 24 in what used to be part of the Sears store's first floor. It will be the first Whole Foods in Pinellas County and third in the Tampa Bay region.

    Sears leased the space to the natural-food grocer as part of the department store's push to shed low-performing, excess space and boost cash flow. Consider it like renting out a room of your house after getting laid off. During tough times, every bit helps....

    In its latest real estate deal, Sears has leased part of the first floor of its store at Westfield Countryside mall to Whole Foods.
  5. Rebranding Restoration Hardware a good fit at International Plaza


    A major tenant is headed to International Plaza.

    The mall has a signed a tenant to take over the spot of Champps restaurant, which closed in February. Who? Mall officials won't say yet, but speculation is pointing toward a luxury furniture store, particularly a gallery-style Restoration Hardware.

    The home furnishings store has been building multistory "design galleries" with cafes, wine bars and picture-perfect displays of the store's furniture and accessories. A newly opened location in Greenwich, Conn., has a conservatory and rooftop garden with trickling fountains....

    International Plaza officials won't say yet which tenant will take over the spot of Champps restaurant , but speculation is pointing toward a luxury furniture store, particularly a gallery-style Restoration Hardware. [Times files (1999)]
  6. Catalina adds digital coupon business


    Catalina, the St. Petersburg-based global retail marketing company, is expanding its digital coupons business.

    Catalina has bought Cellfire, a top provider of online coupons redeemed through grocery store loyalty cards.

    Cellfire allows customers to download manufacturer coupons onto reward cards through a smartphone or other web-enabled device without clipping or printing coupons at home. Shoppers redeem the savings by swiping their card at checkout....

  7. Buffalo Wings & Rings seeking to expand in Tampa Bay area


    You'd think being home to the first Hooters and Ker's Winghouse might scare away potential competitors.

    Not so for Buffalo Wings & Rings. The sports restaurant is sniffing the Tampa Bay area for up to five locations in the next few years. It hopes to open the first in early 2016.

    Based in Cincinnati, Ohio, the 50-restaurant chain has three locations in Florida — Orlando, North Port and Port Charlotte, which opened in April. The company wants to move into the Tampa Bay area because so many residents and tourists come from the Midwest, where the chain has a strong customer base, said Philip Schram, executive vice president of business development....

  8. Kmart is thinking about Christmas


    Summer doesn't officially end for another few weeks, but Kmart already wants us to start thinking about the holidays.

    While I groan at the notion, the store's new ad is quite clever and, really, the best thing I've seen out of Kmart in a while.

    "It's too early for Christmas, so just to be clear, this is not a Christmas commercial," the ad begins. "However, let's say you have an event in late December that you need a lot of gifts for — like, maybe your entire family is having a birthday on the same day."...

  9. Olive Garden offers unlimited pasta


    For anyone who has mused, "I could eat pasta every meal,'' this promotion is for you.

    Olive Garden, in a move to generate buzz and get people through the door, is offering its first-ever "Never Ending Pasta Pass.'' For $100, pass holders get the all pasta, salad and bread they can eat between Sept. 22 and Nov. 9. To wash it down, pass holders, along with their dining guests, get free Coca-Cola brand soft drinks....

  10. Restaurant pricing expert weighs on how to offset rising costs


    TAMPA — Rising costs of beef, labor and health care mean tight times for fast-food restaurant owners.

    To maintain profits, many have resorted to revising menus and tweaking prices.

    Enter Tom Kelly. The chairman and CEO of Revenue Management Solutions works with restaurants and retailers to adjust menu pricing without hurting traffic or the company's bottom line. Clients range from McDonald's to Checkers and Famous Dave's....

    Tom Kelly, 64, is the founder, chairman and CEO of Revenue Management Solutions.
  11. PODS sues U-Haul over its use of the word 'pods'


    TAMPA — PODS or pods?

    The distinction is the focus of a lawsuit between the Clearwater-based moving and storage company, and its rival U-Haul.

    PODS Enterprises is suing U-Haul International over its use of "pods'' in advertising and marketing materials for its products and services. After a two-year legal battle, the case is scheduled to go to trial Monday in U.S. District Court in Tampa....

    PODS Enterprises delivers empty 8-foot-tall containers to homes and businesses. Customers fill them up, then PODS picks them up and transports them to a new location or storage center. The company could lose its trademark of the word “pods” if the word is found in court to be too generic.
  12. International Plaza offering free stylist sessions during Tampa Bay Fashion Week


    TAMPA — As a wife and working mom who travels regularly for her job, Lisa Metheny doesn't have much time to devote to her wardrobe.

    But she wants to look good and dress the part, whether it be for a work meeting, a school event or a date night with her husband.

    That's where fashionista Tasha Scaglione Ong comes in.

    International Plaza has hired Ong and fellow stylists Valerie Romas and Jackie Walker to give free fashion advice during Tampa Bay Fashion Week, from Friday through Sept. 20....

    Models walk a runway at the Hilton Tampa Downtown during the 2013 Tampa Bay Fashion Week designer show. [LUIS SANTANA   |   Times (2013)]
  13. For Zara clothing retailer, lesson to be learned from Nazi shirt controversy


    Trendy clothing store Zara landed in a world of trouble last week over its release of a children's pajama top that resembles a Nazi concentration camp uniform.

    The shirt, with its dark stripes and yellow star, caused an avalanche of criticism on social media, with many Twitter and Facebook posts accusing the clothing retailer of anti-Semitism and heartlessness.

    "I can't believe a major multi-national company could be so clueless and insensitive," wrote one person on Facebook....

    In 2007, Zara withdrew a handbag adorned with green swastikas. In apologizing, the retailer pointed the finger at a supplier in India, where the swastika was a symbol of luck and well-being long before the Nazis made it a negative icon. [Times illustration /]
  14. Economy hits the gas: More buyers seeking high-end RVs with all the comforts of home



    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....

      Doug and Nicki Craig of Ohio, who recently bought a Monaco Dynasty at the 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. "We got our because it is a more freeing experience. We can work from the road and still keep in touch with our child and grand children," Doug Craig said. The couple is apart of the Lazydays Crown Club and have access to the clubs pool, lounge space, as well as service repairs. Doug and Nicki Craig will be heading to Houston to visit their daughter once the final parts for repair are in.
  15. After rough times, talk of optimism by Florida shopping center leaders


    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.