For Aaron Sidranski, a former casino executive turned Native American jewelry store owner, an epiphany struck eight years ago like a rockslide.
The 37-year-old Durango High School and UNLV alum was an executive in the construction offices at MGM Resorts, working on several projects including CityCenter. But he had a nagging feeling that something was missing in his life.
“I remember sitting in the parking lot of the corporate offices of MGM. I called my dad and said, ‘I think I know what my purpose is.’ I was about to turn 30, and I kind of had that ‘aha!’ [moment], where I wanted to reinvent myself,” Sidranski recalls.
He decided to go into the family business, which started when his Polish grandfather immigrated to America and wound up in El Paso, Texas. In short order, the family opened the El Paso Trading Post in 1945, which sold Native American jewelry, pottery and other traditional wares.
“What makes our store unique is we’re not buying from suppliers, we’re buying from actual Native American artists. I’ve known a lot of these artists since I was a young man.” – Aaron Sidranski
After Sidranski’s father, Ed, came home from the Vietnam War, he took over the business, eventually moving the family to Las Vegas when Aaron was 16. The family owns the De (his father’s name spelled backward) Trading Post at Hoover Dam. When Sidranski decided to go into the family business, he mentored under his father at the Boulder City store for several months.
“Even though I already knew the business, I wanted to learn exactly how we made the stuff, not just, ‘here’s some silver, here’s some turquoise, go,’” Sidranski says. “And it was awesome, because I really learned under him.”
Unfortunately, just as he opened the first of his own stores, Silver Post, in December 2009, the economy was tanking. “I literally lived off of rice and beans, beans and rice, every day,’” he says. “Every dollar I made, I reinvested it back into the business. It’s not like I can pay Native Americans with credit cards. But I built it into a successful store.”
The flagship store, formally located in Premium Outlets South but relocated to Downtown Summerlin in November, took off after a couple of years. Sidranski expanded with a second location in Primm, which failed. He opened a new store in Town Square 18 months ago, which is thriving.
“… I didn’t want to be just an old-school trading post. I wanted to connect the spirituality of the Southwest with the spirituality of the earth.” – Aaron Sidranski
“I kept telling my wife, ‘The more stores we open, the more opportunity we’re giving these artists,” he says.
And it’s the artists that drive Sidranski to succeed. He didn’t have to go far to find them, since his family had connections with nearly 50 artists from 18 tribes around the Southwest. “What makes our store unique is we’re not buying from suppliers, we’re buying from actual Native American artists,” Sidranski says. “I’ve known a lot of these artists since I was a young man. And some of them, now, their kids work for us.”
Authentic jewelry, each imprinted with the artist’s hallmark, make up about half of Silver Post’s business. Another significant portion is selling rocks and crystals, or, as Sidranski prefers to call them, minerals. While that part of the business made up 10-15 percent of sales in his parent’s store, Sidranski says crystals for decorative or spiritual purposes make up almost 40 percent of his business.
“As people are getting more in tuned with the whole [natural], holistic, handmade kind of mentality, [they] are feeling more of a spiritual connection to what rocks and minerals symbolize,” he says. “That was, I think, one of the turning points I did for my parents’ and for my business. I didn’t want to be just an old-school trading post. I wanted to connect the spirituality of the Southwest with the spirituality of the earth.”
Sidranski and his wife, Sarah, who also works at Silver Post, enjoy helping tourists and locals learn more about culture and stones from the Southwest. “We’ve noticed that tourists tend to know a lot about Native American Southwest jewelry, but sometimes locals, we’re kind of oblivious to what’s in our own backyard,” he says. “For example, most people aren’t aware of the white buffalo turquoise mine up in Tonopah. Or the fact that Nevada produces more turquoise than any other state in the Southwest.”
Sidranski has no regrets about his career change, even if it has come with a few bumps along the way. “I think it was my destiny,” he says. “I truly believe that.”