Doris Moskowitz was born in 1966, the youngest daughter of Moe and Barb Moskowitz. One of her sweetest memories is of being at Moe's in what they call “the old store,” two doors down from the current store, listening to her mom read The Cricket in Times Square. “The children's books were right down there in the basement with the records. Great music was always playing around Moe, just like at home.”
After graduating from Mills College 1990 with degrees in English and Music, she began working with her dad at the legendary Berkeley store he founded in 1959 on Telegraph Avenue. Now it is Doris who owns and operates Moe's Books, keeping her father's legacy alive.
Although Moe was a transplant from New York City, Doris is deeply rooted in Berkeley. She grew up in the Elmwood on Lewiston, which she claims is the most beautiful street in the city. She is a graduate of Griffin Preschool, Walden School and Berkeley High, and a member of an elite class of those who attended the Berkeley Co-op's popular “Kiddie Corral.” In 2003, she and her husband, Johnny Williams, opened Boss Robot Hobby on College avenue. Their son, Eli Williams, attends Berkeley High.
Mills alumna Doris Moskowitz grew up among books at her parents' well-known Berkeley store, Moe's Books.
"I love books," says Doris. "One of my favorite classes at Mills was the History of the Book, taught by Martin Antonetti. In the Bender Room of the old library, he'd bring out these very old books and place them on blue velvet fabric, and we'd discuss the print and binding. I loved it."
It was here fondness for books and the History of the Book class that inspired Doris to consider library school. "Martin really encouraged me," says Doris. "He even talked to my dad about it. He made it seem fun and glamorous." But like any recent graduate with a liberal arts education (a degree in English and music) Doris had other ideas too -- opening a toy store, starting a singing career. "I sang jazz standards of the 1930s," says Doris. "I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I was everywhere."
Before long, Doris was drawn to her family's book business. Her parents invited her to work in the shop but allowed a wide berth, so she could decide for herself if Moe's was the place for her. It seems the fit was just right.
Moe and Barb Moskowitz opened their business in the late '50s. Initially the store was located on Shattuck Avenue and called the Paperback Book Shop. Moe was a skilled picture framer, and they offered picture framing and new and used quality paperback books. A few years later, they moved to Telegraph Avenue, changed the name to Moe's Books, and in 1979 Moe's settled into its current building, at 2476 Telegraph.
As any Berkeley book lover knows, Moe's is an institution, and Moe Moskowitz was a character. A native of Queens, New York, Moe dabbled in art galleries, violin, and acting before opening his paperback shop. During the turbulent '60s, Moe's Books was a place for political debate, with cigar-chomping Moe in the thick of it.
The Moskowitzes maintained a democratic approach to their business. There were no managers, and although each employee had a specialty, they were all expected to do whatever was needed, from running the cash register to cleaning the restrooms.
"It was important to my parents to do something socially conscious," says Doris. "Profit wasn't necessarily the objective. They wanted a business that was fair to the staff and customers." Indeed, the markup they chose on used paperback books was substantially lower than the customary 200-300 percent.
By the time Doris was fully trained as a used book buyer, she was taking some time away from the store to be with her newborn son, Eli. Sadly, that was not meant to last. Moe Moskowitz died unexpectedly in 1997, which put Doris in charge of the store. Her mother continued to work with the financial side of the business, but the day-to-day decision making was now Doris' responsibility.
That was turning point for Doris and the business. "I always felt part of the staff, not in charge, but in time I had to think that what's best for the business is for me to step up." And she did, officially taking charge of the store and making long-time employee Gene Barone the store manager.
Since then it's been a gradual process of change. In 2001, Doris' mother died, leaving a void not only for the business but for Doris personally. "When my mom died, I lost my support," she says. And just this year, family friend Audrey Goodfriend, the woman who introduced Moe and Barb and was the business' bookkeeper for 30 years, retired. But change can be good, and with Doris at the helm, the bookkeeping has now been computerized, Moe's now has a website , and the store has regular author readings on Monday nights.
Through all the changes and challenges at Moe's, Doris has drawn on the coping skills she gained from her years at Mills. "I've been thinking about how peaceful I felt there," she says. "I was busy, thinks were chaotic, but it was all doable." She made friends with many resuming students and found them to be good role models. "I learned from them that it's okay if things are hard."
That bit of wisdom continues to serve Doris well as she has evolved from book lover to bookstore owner.
From the Mills Quarterly Alumnae Magazine, Summer 2005
The Woman Behind the Doors of Moe's Books: Doris Moskowitz, By Moya Stone, MFA '03