The Arctic Sounder

In Your Words: Kiana entrepreneur Ely Cyrus breathes new life into historic Blankenship Trading Post

Near the edge of the Kobuk River in Kiana stands a historic landmark: the Blankenship Trading Post. Established in 1935 by Walter “Blank” and Nellie Blankenship when they acquired assets of the business that dates back even earlier, this historic establishment has been a cornerstone of the community providing essential supplies. Now, under the stewardship of local entrepreneur Ely Cyrus, the store is poised to embark on a new chapter of growth and innovation.

A lifelong resident of Kiana, Cyrus’ journey into entrepreneurship began with humble roots.

“I started out in high school working for Maniilaq in IT as an intern,” he said. “I was fairly apt at technology and computers.”

It was during his formative years that Cyrus’s innate curiosity and knack for problem-solving first emerged.

“When I was 6 years old, I recycled a few computers the school threw at the dump and was able to fix them” he recalls with a grin. “It was my first introduction to applying my knowledge of technology and creating value.”

Cyrus’s academic journey took him from Kiana to the halls of Mt. Edgecumbe in Sitka to the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, where initially he pursued studies in computer engineering, before discovering his passion for tribal government.

“While my background in technology laid the foundation for my career, my heart was always drawn to serving my community,” he reflects.


Armed with a keen sense of purpose, Cyrus embarked on a trajectory of various, yet important, roles—starting in IT, then to the Maniilaq’s TANF (Temporary Assistance) department as a lead caseworker, and now, the city administrator of Kiana. He also served as the president of the Native Village of Kiana. His dedication to public service extends beyond Kiana, leading him to become the chairman of the board of NANA Regional Corporation, in addition to serving on other boards and commissions.

“I have lived in Kiana my whole life. I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” Cyrus said. “Our region is blessed by some of the nicest people I have ever met, and I see our region as one big community.”

In 2018, Cyrus took on a new challenge as the city administrator in Kiana—a role that further deepened his commitment to public service.

“I enjoy doing this work,” he says. “We partner with ANTHC in maintaining our water and sewer system, help keep the roads in town maintained, and as well as other required functions of the city government.”

Despite his diverse array of experiences, Cyrus’s entrepreneurial journey truly took flight with his acquisition of Blankenship Trading Post a few months ago. Steeped in history and tradition, the store holds a special place in the fabric of Kiana’s identity.

“I have no intention of changing the name of the store,” Cyrus said. “The store predates the incorporation of Kiana, and I respect the history and contributions of the families who founded it and managed it for decades.”

Indeed, the story of Blankenship Trading Post is one of resilience and adaptation. Established during the pinnacle of mining activity along the Squirrel River, the store quickly became a lifeline for miners and residents alike. Over the years, it weathered numerous challenges, from harsh winters to economic fluctuations. Yet, through it all, the Blankenship Trading post remained steadfast in serving the community of Kiana.

Ruth, the daughter of Blank and Nellie Blankenship, ran and operated the store from 2002 in a semi-retired mode. Operating the business allowed to keep her active both physically and mentally, in addition allowed her to interact with her friends and fellow community members of Kiana.

“After Ruth’s passing in 2014, her children stepped in to continue its operation,” Cyrus said. “Eventually, they made the decision to sell the store.”

It was this pivotal moment that sparked Cyrus’s entrepreneurial vision—a vision rooted in a deep-seated desire to give back to his community and make a tangible difference in the lives of its residents.

“The challenges I have faced since purchasing the store are the same as what many people face in our villages,” Cyrus said. “From power outages at -40 to diesel fuel gelling at -60, each obstacle has tested my resolve.”

Yet, amidst the adversity, Cyrus remains dedicated in his commitment to his guiding principle: lowering costs and enhancing accessibility for the community.

“My aim is to offer quality products at cheaper prices,” Cyrus said. “I strive to keep the margins as low as I can to not only boost sales but to create a competitive pricing scene in Kiana.

From reducing bottled water from $2 to below $1, baby formula and diapers to $5 to $10 less, Cyrus’s efforts have already begun to make an appreciable impact on the community.

In addition to his ambitious pursuits, Cyrus is an avid aviator who holds a pilot’s license—a passion that has deep roots in his upbringing.

“I earned my pilot’s license almost 10 years ago,” he said. “I mainly use my planes to help out with Search and Rescue, personal travel, and my favorite, helping to provide cover to our snow machine races to help keep an eye on our racers and help keep them safe.”

This access to an airplane will open and cheapen the transport of goods into Kiana directly from Fairbanks as a new option the store never had before.


Central to Cyrus’s vision for the store is a focus on expanding its offerings to better serve the needs of the community.

“My hope is to reinvest in expanding the store to make room for more groceries and healthier options for fresh food for our community,” he said. “We’re constantly exploring new ways to enhance the shopping options for our customers.”

As he embarks on this new chapter of his entrepreneurial journey, Cyrus said he remains guided by an unwavering belief in the potential of his community and the power of collective action.

“My advice to anyone aspiring to do the same is to lay out a solid business plan and prepare to persevere through challenges,” he said. “I believe in our region and people, and I want to see us all succeed with our goals, whatever they may be.”