Moe’s Books – a Berkeley landmark since 1959
A few weeks ago, I visited Moe’s Books in Berkeley, California, on a quiet Sunday morning. It was 10am and the students were just starting to emerge and consider their brunch options. You get a feeling for Moe’s long and eventful history when you immediately spot this poster for sale just inside the entrance.
What a powerful image – Berkeley, protests against the Vietnam War, 1969 and a used bookstore all rolled into one thing. I had to buy one. Berkeley still has that edge. There have been numerous protests against Donald Trump in recent weeks and the university cancelled an event featuring Trump supporter Milo Yiannopoulos.
Moe’s goes way back. It was founded in 1959 by Moe Moskowitz and his wife, Barbara. They moved to Telegraph Avenue in the 1960s. The bookstore reflects the presence of the nearby university (just four blocks away) and the area’s long history of protest. There are ample sections offering books on philosophy, culture, social science and politics.
There’s a lovely essay on the Moe’s website about Moe himself, who died in 1997. One of his daughters, Doris, now owns and operates the store.
Moe never lost his edge, or his passion for progressive causes. As he began his life as a Berkeley merchant and citizen, he sparred with the City Council over matters ranging from business permits to civic beautification, all of which were a prelude to his involvement in the Free Speech Movement and protests against the Vietnam War. Remaining true to his pacifist principles, Moe opposed not just the war, but any anti-war tactics, such as goading authorities into reactive responses, that could lead to violence. All the while he kept his bookstore open during curfews to shelter protesters and resist what he saw as authoritarian rule.
There’s a watchful painting of Moe looking down at the till area – I suspect he’s looking to see what books today’s readers are buying.
This is a large bookstore. There are four floors, housing more 150,000 books, and an elevator. There’s a rare book room on the fourth floor and an art gallery too. It’s got lovely long opening hours – 10am to 10pm everyday – which is ideal for late night book buying.
I enjoyed wandering from floor to floor, seeing the shop steadily become busier as more patrons wandered in after their Sunday morning coffee. I bought a book by Patrick Leigh Fermor, who would have loved this bookstore, and moved on.