By Nina Silberstein
Ever since he attended college at the University of Oregon, John M. Chandler was attracted to living upstairs in a “neat old place” with either a bookstore or coffeeshop on the main floor.
When he found a dilapidated 1891 Victorian mercantile at 3039 SE Stark St., he instantly fell in love with its history. Turns out the building was the location of the circus for Portland at the turn of the century and the family living there at the time were circus folk.
Two of the sons called themselves the Leondor Brothers and travelled with Ringling Brothers, (Ask him about the old Leondor Family Circus poster found behind the walk-in cooler by the back stairs.)
Over the years, the building housed various corner groceries (Slim’s, Suzie O’Connell’s and Sindee’s), as well as the Wm. Landauer Grocery for which Landauer was the original owner and builder.
Chandler and his wife, Heather, bought the building in March 2007, and after nearly three years of extensive renovations, they opened a small artisanal coffee roasting operation, Oblique Coffee Roasters, in 2010. The store sells beans and ground coffee on both the retail and wholesale level.
“We focus on really fresh, seasonal and singular high-scoring coffees,” Chandler says. “One that we are known for is the Mexico Nayarit natural processed coffee we get from time to time. Strawberry, rose and sweet milk chocolate – just a stunner – and one of the best breakfast coffees I have ever had the pleasure of roasting,” he explains.
Interesting to note is the German cast iron coffee roaster named Bart, which the couple found on Craigslist a few months before the doors opened for business. “Most loyal, stalwart employee you could ever hope for,” Chandler adds.
If you’re wondering why the word oblique was chosen as part of the name of the business, Chandler says, “The mathematical definition of oblique is no corresponding perpendicular or parallel lines.”
In other words: the building slants. Before the Chandlers bought it, it was slated to be demolished by the city of Portland due to a considerable structural lean, its years of use and lack of maintenance. It was leaning close to two feet off-center.
These days, times are tough for this family-owned business. “Unfortunately, we are in dire straits,” he says.
“I wish it could be different. Our location is tucked away along Stark, which has historically been a thoroughfare, and more commercially centered areas were developed along Burnside, Belmont and Hawthorne, allowing Stark to remain the route from A to B,” he says.
In addition, the floVelo Cycling Studio that was located inside the main floor of the building and offered classes six days a week, is no longer.
“We tried using the space in the evenings to attract a different clientele and diversify, and we had some classes, but yeah, kind of a sore subject at this point. We’re selling the bikes and washing our hands.”
Oblique has had album release parties in the building, Portlandia was filmed there multiple times and a few indie filmmakers have used the space, which is still available for special event rentals.
As far as food and snacks are concerned, the business has been a loyal partner with Pearl Bakery since they opened, but last winter Pearl decided to cease operations right before Christmas.
They were sold to a new owner and are now located in Wilsonville. Oblique tried another pastry supplier and used them for a stretch until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and then they stopped their wholesale operations. Chandler hopes to carry bakery items again in the future.
If he has any message he’d like to get out during these trying times, it’s the importance of supporting your small, locally-owned businesses.
“Remember the family who saved one of the last remaining, historic, and architecturally- and culturally-significant, Victoria-era general stores, and opened up a very good coffee roaster/café,” he says.
“Support small business by buying beans; that is our business model, and for the most part, we have succeeded at making it beyond the 10-year mark, which is a miracle in itself.”
These days, he just wishes it could be a bit more sustainable instead of survivable.
Oblique Coffee Roasters
3039 SE Stark St.
Photo by Oblique Coffee Roasters