Moe's Books – Berkeley, California - Atlas Obscura

Moe's Books

A shape-shifting buy-sell-trade bookstore, born to Beatnik Era spirit. 


Located on the equally enigmatic Telegraph Avenue in a town whose culture shaped the international ’60s zeitgeist, Moe’s Books, founded in 1959 by Moe and Barbara Moskowitz, moved from its original location on Shattuck Avenue to Telegraph just as the Free Speech Movement and anti-war demonstrations were exploding all around it.

Just four blocks from the wayward UC Berkeley campus, the literary Mecca stocks thousands of new, used, and out-of-print titles, a landmark community lodge dedicated to fair trade and intellectual enrichment. The casual yet keen Moe’s ambiance finds visitors drawn in such that an hour turns to many. A visit to Moe’s is well described as an endless (and endlessly enjoyable) process of cognitive navigation, a journey through tributaries of distraction – ever-intriguing and unusual offerings presented at every turn.

Beguiling too is the siren song of More Moe’s: Art and Antiquarian Shop, discovered if one ascends the hidden columnar staircase to the fourth (and final) level of the store – or gives in to the temptation of the elevator. It has the air of erudites come and gone, the mystery of a magician’s den. To revel in this reading salon – a sort of special collections nook – is just a sliver of the overall Moe’s experience. 

Moe himself was a revelatory person – one who learned many trades and held many occupations, but found his calling in iconoclastic bookselling. He was born and schooled in New York City, studying painting, art history, and philosophy in college. He was a member of the Young Communist League (before expulsion over having too many opinions) and completed a stint as a merchant marine. A sworn pacifist and avowed rebel, he was involved in many progressive causes. Allied with Vietnam War protesters, he kept the bookstore open in subversion of government-imposed curfews, sheltering any and all who wished for safe harbor. At one time he designated the bookstore basement as the used-record section of his establishment, and it became a much-frequented hangout for music nuts and students. Moe was involved in many civic affairs and cultivated a love of jazz, opera, the theatre arts, and pool. Moe’s Books retains his exceptional metaphysical energy in part due, no doubt, to the years he spent behind the counter singing arias, dancing, engaging in political debates, and smoking his trademark cigar.

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