There's a saying in Fairbanks that if you want to see people you know, go to Fred Meyer.
There may be some truth to that.
Fred Meyer West, one of two Fred Meyer stores in Fairbanks, is the highest-grossing Kroger supermarket in the country — topping more than 2,700 other stores — and has a huge number of customers coming through its doors, the company confirmed last week.
Meanwhile, Fred Meyer East in Fairbanks is consistently one of the highest-grossing in terms of Black Friday sales — No. 2 in the country this year, wrote Zach Stratton, community affairs specialist for the company.
"Our two Fairbanks stores just do a ton of business from that whole surrounding area," Stratton said.
Fred Meyer West store manager Holly Mitchell chuckled when she heard the saying — and agreed. She says she's only been in Fairbanks two years, but can't go to a restaurant without seeing a customer from the store, she said.
And if she goes to the other Fred Meyer in town, she's likely to see at least one person she knows — her husband, who is the manager at that store.
Fred Meyer West is located near the Fairbanks International Airport. It's been the highest-grossing store in the entire Kroger company since at least 2013, topping the list of 2,779 stores in 35 states, Stratton wrote. The store is on track to be No. 1 again for 2016.
Kroger is headquartered in Cincinnati and is one of the largest retailers in the U.S. based on annual sales, according to the company's 2015 factbook.
The Fred Meyer banner — which offers home goods, hardware, clothing and electronics in addition to groceries — exists only in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, with 133 locations. Eleven of those are in Alaska. Kroger operates under many other banners as well, including Ralphs, Baker's, Pick 'n Save and Metro Market.
Prices in Interior Alaska may be one factor in explaining the outsize sale numbers at the Fairbanks stores.
"Prices just tend to be a smidge higher," Stratton said.
Fred Meyer is also one of only a few supermarkets in the Interior community — there's no Costco or Target in Fairbanks, though there is a Sam's Club. There are three Safeways (one of which is in North Pole), and one Wal-Mart Supercenter.
"In that community, people come from all around, and it's just, it's busy all the time," Stratton said.
And the store is big — at 230,000 square feet, it's the second-largest Fred Meyer store, out of 133 total stores, according to Stratton.
Another factor in Fred Meyer West's success is Bush mail, Mitchell said. While roughly 100,000 people live in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the store also serves many communities off the road system.
"We're sending out products, food and non-food, to all of the state really, and that's a really special thing, only a few stores do that," Mitchell said. "We're definitely a hub."
Mitchell said Bush mail was a "significant" part of the store's sales. Only two other stores in Alaska — one in Juneau and another on Muldoon Road in Anchorage — do Bush mail orders, she said.
And some who visit the store from elsewhere on the road system also tend to stock up on goods.
"You've got Delta, Tok, all the places even a hundred miles outside of here," Mitchell said. "Tourism is a piece too — we get a lot of tourists in the summer and winter."
"We're definitely busy all the time," she said.
Holly is married to Randy Mitchell, who runs Fred Meyer East across town. They met at Fred Meyer on Dimond Boulevard in Anchorage 11 years ago, where they were both working at the time, Holly Mitchell said. Married for nine years, they moved up to Fairbanks two years ago.
Fred Meyer East was the second-highest grossing store for Black Friday sales this year (Oregon City, just outside of Portland, was No. 1). In 2013 and 2014, it sold the most out of all Kroger's stores on Black Friday.
"We're located in the perfect spot," said Randy Mitchell, explaining why the sales are so high.
Fred Meyer East is close to a pocket of big-chain stores — like a Barnes and Noble and Wal-Mart — so as people do their Black Friday shopping, they hit up Fred Meyer, too.
"That's why the store benefits on a day like that," Mitchell said.
He agreed that people come from many different communities to shop at the stores, and they tend to stock up.
"We draw from a very large geographical area, and when they buy, they buy big," Mitchell said.