Book Seller Merits Moe Recognition

Moe Moskowitz owns a successful business and he knows it.
Moe is not exactly flamboyant or cocky, but he's certainly not shy, either.

Maybe it's the way he scoffs at the suggestion that his bookstore must be one of the biggest in Berkeley. Just to set the record straight, he counters with the estimate that his is no less than "one of the largest and best bookstores there is."

Or maybe it's the way he paints himself as a maverick bookseller, doing things his own way and winning.

Whatever it is about him, one cannot help but sense in Moe something that can only be described as Napoleonic. It is as if the multistoried bookstore brandishing his name on its brightly colored awning is the empire, and he the emperor.

"It's not some fluke that on some nights when there'll be on one on the street my store is as full as can be," Moe says matter-of-factly. "I created that traffic. Other people could have done what I've done. Shakespeare's, Cody's, they could have taken the gambles I've taken -- but I'm the one who did it."

Indeed, Moe, 61, may not endear himself to those sensitive to brashness, but in 24 years, Moe's Books has grown from what he describes as a "telephone booth" to a four-story 13,000-square-foot supermarket of the printed word.

Moe started in 1959 as a small bookstore at Shattuck and University Avenues which pushed paperbacks and encouraged trading -- against the grain of many stores selling exclusively new books in Berkeley at the time. In 1962, Moe moved his business to the busier area of Telegraph Avenue.


Moe's first store located on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley
The next five years saw two more moves, both were within a block of each other. In 1978 Moe decided it was time to build a new home for his books constructed to his specifications.

"I wanted my store to have the best features of a new store," Moe said, waving the chewed, wet end of his cigar. "I bought the best new display cabinets for the store. It is well lit and open -- the air inside circulates well. It is accessible to everyone, including the handicapped. It is not the typical used book store."

With each move the store made, Moe threw a large public party to celebrate. He also invited bands to play at the store on Saturday and Sunday nights, opening the doors to anyone who wanted to come. All, Moe says, simply because he "like occasions."

The first floor of the new store has the usual display books, but also pocketbooks and used fiction and sale books. Art, literature, poetry, reference and more sale books occupy the second tier. On the third floor are physical sciences books, and the fourth floor offers history books, as well as More Moe's, a store within a store, containing the more expensive art books.

Several years ago, Moe says he sold one book for $4,000 -- a catalog from the first oriental rug exhibition in the United States in 1890. The book contained detailed photographic plates displaying the rugs. A rug dealer from New York, Moe says, came all the way to Berkeley for the purchase.

Moe was born in Queens, New York. He went to Queens college, receiving a degree in economics in 1943. When he and his wife Barbara, who helped found the Walden School in Berkeley, decided to settle in the area, Moe took "about six million different jobs" until a friend of Barbara's offered him a partnership in a small bookshop.

When that partnership dissolved six month later -- Moe says he wanted to try different ideas such as pushing paperbacks and trading -- he decided to open up his own store.

Looking back over the past 24 years, Moe says, "I made a few points to satisfy myself and I made a few points to other people. I did what I wanted to do. I built one of the best bookstores. When you get down to it, though, I'm not like most businessmen. I never really associated with them, and I don't identify with any group or anybody."

-- By John Sarconi, The Daily Californian, April 22, 1983