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 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.
  2. 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)]
  3. 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....

  4. 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....

  5. 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."...

  6. 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....

  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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)]
  10. 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....

    Trendy clothing store Zara landed in a world of trouble last week over its release of a striped children's pajama top billed as a "sheriff" shirt that resembles a Nazi concentration camp uniform. []
  11. 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....

    The exclusive lounge room at Lazydays is one of the perks for Crown Club members. Lazydays offers memberships to buyers of new RVs priced $300,000 and up and certain used versions.
  12. 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.
  13. Ulele restaurant unveils native-inspired menu


    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.
  14. Walmart looks to Neighborhood Markets to boost lagging sales


    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.
  15. Digital currency and bowl backer Bitcoin seeks to broaden its appeal as a form of payment


    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....