Moe’s Books recognized as Berkeley historic landmark by Berkeley Historical Plaque Project

Members of the Berkeley Historical Plaque project adorned the entrance of Moe’s Books with

a sign indicating its historical significance in the Berkeley community on Monday afternoon.
Michael Drummond/Senior Staff
Members of the Berkeley Historical Plaque project adorned the entrance of Moe’s Books with a sign indicating its historical significance in the Berkeley community on Monday afternoon.

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After more than 50 years of being in business, Moe’s Books was recognized as one of Berkeley’s historic landmarks by the Berkeley Historical Plaque Project Monday afternoon.

Moe’s Books, located on Telegraph Avenue a few blocks south of campus, has been a Berkeley mainstay since 1959. Members of the Berkeley Historical Plaque Project, a nonprofit organization that recognizes historic businesses and landmarks in the city, honored the independent bookstore at a small ceremony with about a dozen Berkeley residents in attendance. The plaque now adorns the entrance of the store.

The bookstore — known today for its large collection of used books — was originally named Paperback Bookshop, located in downtown Berkeley and primarily carried a small selection of dime novels and pocket paperback books, according to Ken Eastman, a store employee of 25 years. It eventually relocated to Telegraph Avenue in 1962, expanding into a four-story emporium of written works.

Despite a change in location, the bookstore has preserved its unique atmosphere over the course of its history, according to customers. At a time when many lots are vacant on Telegraph Avenue, Moe’s Books has withstood the test of time, outlasting neighboring bookstores such as Cody’s Books.

Naomi Janowitz, a Berkeley resident for more than 20 years, said she’s glad to see Moe’s Books has maintained its character.

“It still provides a wealth of human experience,” Janowitz said. She added that she enjoys finding interesting markings in the used books.

When the store’s original owner, Morris “Moe” Moskowitz, founded the bookstore, he set out to revolutionize the used-book industry, said Doris Moskowitz, his daughter and the current store owner. She added that her father aimed to offer his customers not only fair prices for their books but also a diverse and high-quality collection.

Now, Moe’s Books carries thousands of books, about 80 percent of which are used.

A native of New York City, Moe Moskowitz was particularly drawn to Berkeley because he knew a bookstore would attract customers with high standards, according to his daughter. Although he passed away in 1997, many Berkeley residents and fellow business owners remember his charisma.

“Moe was a longtime Berkeley character,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who attended the ceremony. “He was a fatherly figure to many social movements and encouraged and supported nearby small businesses, like Amoeba, Rasputin and Reprint Mint.”

In an era when even some of the nation’s biggest bookstores are closing down, however, Doris Moskowitz said the bookstore has adapted past its original model, now selling some of its books on Amazon.

“People’s habits have changed, so we have to,” Doris Moskowitz said.

West Whittaker, a retired Berkeley resident, said Moe’s Books has a certain spirit of “inquiry and discovery” that cannot be replicated by online bookstores because it provides a unique reading experience.

The Berkeley community predicts a continuously promising future for the store.

“Moe’s Books is here for the long run,” Janowitz said. “I think it will be here longer than I will.”

Contact Ivy Kim at [email protected].

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article may have implied that Moe’s Books was formally recognized as a landmark by the City of Berkeley. In fact, it was given a plaque by the Berkeley Historical Plaque Project.