Fact: there are over 200,000 books in this store at any given time. Fact: there are extensive collections of art books, illustrated children's books, first editions, and scholarly books. Fact: it is possible to pick up a used copy of Siddhatha for as little as fifty cents or the original edition of The Wizard of Oz for six hundred dollars.
And yet, despite all of the above, probably the most important reason why Moe's is one of the great bookstores in the United States is its generous trade policies, one of the most liberal in the country for a major bookstore. New and used books and records are bought, sold, and swapped at Moe's, on the following basis: for quality paperbacks, (up to) 30% of the cover in cash or 50% in trade (credit which can be applied to future purchases at Moe's); for pocketbooks in good condition, (up to) 20% of the cover price in cash or 40% in trade; for hardcover books, individual offers and quotations that are quite simply the highest in the state of California.
Most stores will give only 30% in trade, for example, for quality paperbacks. Moe's will also give 50% of the retail price for records and 75% in trade for good clean records. This liberal policy has enabled many students from the University of California -- located down the block from Moe's -- to trade in their books from term to term, acquiring the texts they need for the next semester or some much-needed cash to see them through a difficult time -- sometimes a combination of both.
The trade policy -- in addition to excellent buying and precise shelving -- also accounts for a phenomenal turnover in stock. Each week seems to bring in enormous quantities of books that weren't on the shelves the week before. Moe's also carries records, cards, maps, and some original prints; Visa and Mastercharge are accepted. The store occasionally issues a specialized catalog.
A stop at Moe's is virtually de riguer during a visit to Berkeley. Although the store is mostly frequented by students and faculty members from the University, there seems to be an endless stream of Bay Area artists and writers coming into the store at all times, and recently Lina Wertmuller browsed the aisles of Moe's at approximately the same time Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was searching for a book.
The owner of Moe's, Moe Moskowitz -- who says business has increased 900% since he opened in 1959 -- has become almost a legendary figure in Berkeley, presiding over his store with a Churchillian cigar, dispensing knowledge and prices of books and operating his store like a literary general. The cigar might give him trouble in the future, however. A tough antismoking ordinance, which bans smoking in all retail stores, was recently passed in California.
Moe says he has no intention of giving up smoking in his own store. He adds, philosophically: "It is possible for someone to arrest me in my own store. I wonder if the city council knows about a recent study made on a control group of ten humans that demonstrated that half again the usual degree of selfghteousness produces as many cancer cells as you would get from having ten thousand rats smoking human cigars ten hours a day for two years. The skeptics' premise that you can't solve one problem without creating a new one applies perfectly here."
Meanwhile, Moe continues to sell. A history of Japanese temples in 16 volumes? The compete plays of Eugene O'Neill? A slightly used copy of Toscanini conducting Beethoven's Ninth?
-- Brady & Lawless's Favorite Bookstore, by Frank Brady and Joann Lawless (Sheed, Adrews and McNeil, 1978)