Berkeley’s Moe’s Books honored with historical plaque

Moe's by Sici

Some of the Moe’s team pose with the bookstore’s new historical plaque. L to r: Doris Moskowitz, Gene Barone, Johnny Williams, K Murphy, Laura Tibbals, Matt Wong, and Owen Hill. Photo: Siciliana Trevino

Moe’s Books, Berkeley’s famous Telegraph Avenue bookstore, was yesterday honored with the installation of an historical plaque.

The 55-year-old bookstore, which was founded by Moe Moskowitz and his wife Barbara, is now run by the couple’s daughter Doris Moskowitz who said the new plaque made her and her team feel very proud.

The plaque was bestowed on Moe’s by the Berkeley Historical Plaque Project which was established in 1997 with sponsorship from the City of Berkeley and its Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association and the Berkeley Historical Society

Moe Moskowitz with his trademark cigar in 1963. Photo: courtesy Moe’s Books

Moskowitz and the Berkeley Historical Society worked together to pinpoint which part of the bookstore’s history would be highlighted on the plaque. They agreed that what is known as the “Moe Dollar” would be worth focusing on. Hence the plaque reads:

“In 1959, Morris (Moe) Moskowitz and his wife, Barbara, opened a small paperback bookshop on Shattuck Avenue. They soon moved to Telegraph Avenue where Moe’s Books evolved into a renowned emporium featuring hundreds of thousands of books. Moe’s Books was a pioneer in giving honest, fair prices by establishing a fair trade policy of offering cash or a higher value in “Moe Dollars” (“In God and Moe We Trust”) for used books.  These innovative trade slips — membership cards to a literary world — give previously read books respect and value. Defying Berkeley’s no-smoking ordinance, the iconoclastic, politically leftist Moskowitz enjoyed his cigars at work, typifying Telegraph Avenue’s anti-authoritarian identity.  After his death in 1997 the bookstore has remained a family-run business, continuing its legendary founder’s traditions.”

As Moskowitz puts it today, Moe’s essentially established its own currency for the store. “Now it’s very common to recycle and re-use, but it wasn’t when my father chose to introduce this fair-trade policy at the store, which coincided with the advent of paperbacks in the 1950s,” she said. “It means that even if you don’t have much money, if you love books, you can continue to educate yourself. Moe was an autodidact himself.”

Moe and Doris

Moe Moskowitz and Doris Moskowitz at Mills College in 1990. Photo: courtesy Moe’s Books

The Graduate

A still from The Graduate (1967) in which Dustin Hoffman sits at Caffe Mediterraneum looking through the window at Moe’s Books. Photo: courtesy Moe’s Books

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  • Bryan Garcia

    Love Moe’s! They’re the best book store in Berkeley (and possibly in the greater Bay Area) as far as I’m concerned. Great selection and fair prices.

  • M.E. Lawrence

    Still my favorite bookstore in the world. I have happy memories of Moe and his cigar and his (apparently) favorite lilac shirt, singing jazz under his breath as he worked the counter.

  • Bill N

    One of the last great bookstores in Berkeley.

  • Lawrence Grown

    Congratulations Doris and Johnny and the rest of the Moe’s team! Here’s to 55 more years, and then some.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I happened to pass by just after there celebration was done – and they were still giving away free cookies!!

    Moe’s is my favorite bookstore. Much better than, for example, Strand in New York, which is bigger but doesn’t have nearly as good a selection of books.

  • andrew johnson

    I always find good books at Moe’s, it’s a pleasure to wander through the stacks. Friendly staff, too.

    Note to the City: Please don’t ruin upper Telegraph with BRT. It will wreak devastation on the small businesses that count on street parking, like Moe’s.

  • M.E. Lawrence

    Maybe it’s in honor of Moe; booksellers tended toward a little gloom during his iconoclastic regime.

  • Heather_W_62

    I practically cut my teeth at Moe’s, with my dad and his friends through the ’60’s and ’70’s. A great iconic bookstore; so glad it’s still around. The deterioration of Telegraph Ave and the difficulty in parking means I don’t up there very often, which is sad.