Moe and His Bookstore: Convention to the Wind

"Please don't steal. It isn't good for you," reads the block wood sign hanging down on a chain from the ceiling of Moe's Bookstore.

Moe's is not a conventional bookstore, even for Berkeley.

In fact the first thing you see as you walk in the store is the rack of avant-garde magazines from Soviet Film to Paris Match to the Ladder, a Lesbian Review.

Old records are next in sight, and then buttons, a bounty of buttons. Finally toward the back and on the walls... the books. All are used and most are paperbacks. They are arranged in a well-ordered fashion if direct contrast to the first impression put forth by the peculiar entrance.

And behind the counter there's a man named Moe. He's not the conventional bookstore owner, even for Berkeley.

Moe, Morris Moskowitz, 46, is responsible for the casual yet efficient atmosphere of the musty little shop. A short, balding man, with four cigars and a pencil in his pocket, he has an energy which is coupled with a relaxed concentration and a keen understanding of his customers as well as his wares.

Moe caters mainly to grad students and professors. "The hippies don't read much," he explained. "What they're interested in is the specialized stuff, the drug literature and astrology books. The undergraduates find it too far to walk. Some of them think it is a completely different world. Also, although I concentrate on scholarly books, there are few real texts," he said.

"I don't know about all the University students," he said. "But when I was a kid I thought I was a radical. The kids today are much more rebellious, as far as drugs, sex, and general antagonism to the bureaucracy is concerned," he observed.

Moe's in the '60s. The Avenue buzzed with activity with readings and live music.
Moe received his B.A. in economics from Queens College in New York. "Generally, there's a lot more dissatisfaction now," he continued. "There's been another world war; this Vietnam thing has gotten out of hand, and also there is less privacy now. Society has filled in the cracks and the holes. There are fewer crevices for people to fit into."

"Another difference is in the size of the movement and its militancy," he added. "Even in the few years since I've been on Telegraph I've noticed a change: The alliance of the Peace and Freedom Party with the Black Panthers is evidence of this. Also the astronomical sale of the Barb is significant of the change in attitude."

Moe has owned three bookstores in Berkeley. He began in a small building on Shattuck Avenue, later moving his Rambam (a Hebrew anagram for Rabbi Moses ben Malmon-Mainonides) to the northeast corner of Dwight Way and Telegraph (the present location of Shakespeare and Co.). Eight months later he arrived at his present location at 2476 Telegraph.

Moe also works in Haight Ashbury. Through his Third World Company, he distributes such underground publications as the East Village Other, the Oracle, the Barb and the Rolling Stone. He remarked that the San Francisco district is "seedy and demented" in comparison to Telegraph Avenue.

"There's a trace of Noblesse Oblige in Haight right now. It's really a raw situation. As close to the Wild West as you can get now."

"Personally, I use the less popular drugs, like tobacco," he noted, puffing on a large, smelly cigar. "I'm all in favor of the legalization of marijuana, but I think some of the more dangerous drugs should be controlled.

"Frankly, I'd like to think that people can be visionaries without drugs," he said. "People can get high on their own. It just takes a little energy and imagination.

"A lot of people think that working in a bookstore is like being part of a Charles Dickens novel," he said. "Actually 'tis far from the quiet genteel surroundings of the 19th century."

Open seven days a week 79 hours in all, Moe's has over 40,000 volumes ranging from folk literature to astrophysics. "We deal mainly in used paperback," he said. "I think it's more important to keep a good stock than an overly large one."

Moe does most of his business in the afternoons, especially on Saturdays and Sundays. "The tourist trade is good; my one complaint is the kids," he said. "I'm tired of selling to children, so I'm going out of the button business."

Moe's interests are restricted to the printed page. He also manages a five piece nameless band. " It used to be called Preston Webster and Company but when we lost the drummer, we lost the name.They played at the New Orleans House and the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco," Moe noted.

"I've always wanted to live by the ocean. Not to do anything or raise anything -- just to live by the ocean." A strange comment from a man successfully involved in three business endeavors.

In his spare time? What little he has of it, the bookshop man spends "playing pool, reading and arguing with friends." He also finds some time to be with his wife and four children. They live in Berkeley.

-- by Val Miner, the Daily Californian, 10/2/1968