Big Ray's Store
Local (907) 452–3458
- 507 2nd Ave., Fairbanks, AK See map
- 3230 Airport Way, Fairbanks Alaska See map
|PLAN IT ALASKA
|HOURS OF OPERATION
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All weather outfitters since 1947
Fishing, hunting and camping gear, outdoor clothing and footwear, work-
wear, work-boots, Classic Alaska gear, souvenirs and gifts, fishing &
hunting licenses, rain-gear an waders.
Who was Big Ray?
The story of a store that has been part of Fairbanks for decades
by Judy Ferguson - Courtesy of Fairbanks Miner News
FAIRBANKS — “Every week we get asked at least once, ‘So who was Big
Ray?’” Monty Rostad, owner-partner of Fairbanks Big Ray’s Classic Alaska
clothing store, grinned. Like most of the 2nd Avenue business owners,
Milan Raykovich, “Big Ray,” was a Montenegrin!
As we celebrate Alaska statehood anniversary in 2008-2009, the oil
discovery that had a key impact on Alaska’s case for statehood was linked
to the Anchorage Army-Navy Surplus Store: the Kenai oil discovery of 1957.
In 1917, Milan “Big Ray” Raykovich was born to a Montenegrin coal miner,
Petar and his wife Zorka Rajkovic near Ellensburg, Wash. Standing six feet,
seven inches tall, Milan turned heads on the basketball court. Nick
Borovich, a friend from the old country, mentioned to Raykovich that he
might play ball for the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines (later
the University of Alaska Fairbanks). Raykovich transferred; as the school’s
tallest player between 1936 and 1937, he became a star.
In 1940, Croatian-Americans from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Tommy Paskvan Jr. and his friends Rudy and
Louis Krize arrived in Fairbanks, looking for work. The Krize brothers got work bartending, soon bought their
own bars, and managed somehow to buy the lower end of Second Avenue from Cap Lathrop. They began
building on their new property on the rather vacant “Two Street.”
|By then Raykovich and his brother Phil were in Anchorage, running a
pool hall and bar. As World War II threatened Alaska, vast amounts of
money, construction and people poured in, more than all the gold
rushes combined. Bar business skyrocketed.
|Captain Glenn Miller of the U.S. Army Signal Corps and his sergeant John “Mac” McManamin liked to come in and
play pool at Big Ray’s bar. Graduates of the Great Depression, Miller and Mac saw Anchorage as a business
bonanza waiting to happen. They figured that when the war was over they would sell military surplus cold weather
gear: Boots, pants, parkas, jerry cans, and ahkio sleds. There was a market, and Miller and Mac could supply.
A year earlier, Rudy and Louis Krize had opened their restaurant, the Café Aurel, on lower Second Avenue.
However, after many frustrations they threw in the towel. Knowing the Raykovichs were down at the river working
out of a Quonset hut, they asked Big Ray if he’d like to buy the new Krize building on Two Street. In 1951, the
Raykovichs opened Big Ray’s Surplus Store on Second and ran it out of Krize’s building for the next 10 years.
By the mid-1950s as northern oil exploration developed, major oil company geologists were arriving in Anchorage.
Needing cold-weather clothing, they shopped at the Army-Navy Surplus Store. Miller’s shoe clerk, Locke Jacobs,
listened intently to the geologists and asked questions. With no money but through grueling research, Jacobs
devoted himself to learn not only geology but the local land and oil possibilities. After recording reams of land
office data and tracking on oil leases, he decided that the Swanson River Kenai Peninsula was the place to invest.
In 1947, Miller, Mac, and their friend Howard Cruver began selling surplus in their new Army-Navy Surplus Store on Fourth Avenue in Anchorage. It went so
well that they decided to open a store in Fairbanks. A friend, “Honest John” Brennan, opened their Honest John’s surplus store in Charlie Main’s old five
and dime between First and Second on Noble Street. However, Honest John had to move on. One evening in Anchorage, Glenn Miller discussed with Big
Ray their need for a partner in Fairbanks. Raykovich knew the town, knew how to run a business, and was good with the public. Miller offered Big Ray and
his brother a partnership, saying the store would be called Big Ray’s. The Raykovichs opened at Charlie Main’s but then moved on to a Quonset hut on the
river (near today’s Morris Thompson building).
Glenn Miller’s son, Mike Miller, recalled, “Jacobs approached Dad and the other employees repeatedly. Concerned that Jacobs’ oil speculations might ruin his
employees, Dad asked, ‘How much would it take to shut you up?’ ‘$1,000,’ Locke replied. ‘Fine,’ Dad said, and wrote out the check.” Eventually Miller, along
with 13 other investors including Mac, the Raykovich brothers, Robert Atwood of the Anchorage Daily Times, banker Elmer Rasmuson, and Wilbur Wester of
Westward Hotel, invested, forming the Group of Fourteen. These key businessmen, particularly Wester, pressured Congress to drill in Alaska. In 1957 when
Richfield Oil Company struck oil in Swanson River, the prospects of Alaska statehood improved, showing Alaska could support itself.
In 1961 when the checks from Richfield Oil (later, ARCO) began arriving, Big Ray and Glenn Miller were ready to sell Big Ray’s. They ran into Louis Krize on
the street. “Hey, we wanna sell!” they called out. Right there on Second Avenue, a deal was struck.
When Louis Krize took over Big Ray’s Surplus Store, he and Frank Krize closed Top O’ the World on Noble Street. In 1968 Krize expanded Big Ray’s building
and added an upstairs with offices and storage. He dropped the “Surplus Store” handle to “Big Ray’s.” He added Red Wing boots and clothes for the working
man to his surplus inventory. He enlarged the Krize Building to also accommodate the Sportland Arcade and café and its newsstand as well as the new Top O’
the World clothing.
From 1961 to 1978, the Krize brothers owned Big Ray’s with its entrance on 3rd and ran the Sportland cafe out of the Second Avenue entrance.
Dick Cruver took over his brother Howard’s partnership in the Anchorage store. Mike Miller and his friend Monty Rostad worked during the summers. In 1978,
Rostad graduated in business from college but intended to move to Texas. That same year Glenn Miller told Rostad the partners were buying Big Ray’s back
from the Krizes, and asked if Rostad would consider running Big Ray’s. Rostad agreed to for a year. For the next two years, Glen Miller continued to offer
Rostad a check if he’d just stay one more year.
“In 1980, I knocked out the separating wall, and converted the café into Big Ray’s boot department. We converted what had been the upstairs old Flame
lounge into warehouse space,” he said. “We have continued to expand to over 23,000 square feet. In 2006, we purchased the building from Sophie and
Dick Cruver asked his son, Mark, to replace him while Glenn asked his son, Mike, to take his place.
“I was very fortunate. Glenn and Dick offered me the same opportunity as they did their sons,” Rostad said. “In the 1980s, Mark, Mike and I became equal
partners in the two stores.”
From 1979 to 2008, Mark Cruver, Mike Miller and Monty Rostad have been at the helm of the business, half of the stores’ lifetime.
“Between both outlets,” Rostad said, “we have sold more Carhartts per capita than anyone else in the world! Today we carry all the name brands. We listen to
our customers and have customized a line of Alaska clothes based on their requests,” he said. “In January, we also bought Mac’s Sport Shop in Kodiak.”
“There’s no question,” he added, “that we work harder today than we used to. A business has to evolve, be computerized, control its buying, have sharp
advertising, pay good wages and benefits, and particularly, span the changes of ownership.
Rostad said Big Ray’s is “a story of Alaska’s development, of loyal customers, of Millers, Cruvers, McManamins, Raykovichs, Krizes and now, Rostad.
“Each store is Alaska-owned and operated. We fill the niches the ‘box stores’ can’t,” he said. “The year 2007 was the sixtieth year for us; we are classic
Judy Ferguson is a publisher and the author of Alaska histories “Parallel Destinies,” “Blue Hills” and children’s books, “Alaska’s Secret Door,” “Alaska’s Little
Chief” and “Alaska’s First People.”
In 2009, expect Ferguson’s Salute to Statehood, “Bridges to Statehood, the Alaska Yugoslav Connection.”
Courtesy of Fairbanks Miner News
Originally published Sunday, November 30, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated Sunday, November 30, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.