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Berkeley Bookstore In The Wake Of A Social Phenomenon

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Freedom Writers: Moe's Books 

Renowned Bookstore In Berkeley California Is Examined As A Cultural Epicenter For Revolutionary Ideas On Love, Peace And Unity

Moe's Books On Telegraph Avenue In The 1960s [Courtesy/Moe's Books]

A Rolls Royce pulls up to a packed Telegraph Avenue with a sign on the side of the door that says “Moe's Books.” It stops in front of a huge crowd and a man in a top hat gets out, puffing on a large cigar. He waves at the large crowd that follows him into Moe's Books. Children meander through the stacks of books that act as a maze, young adults with long hair and flowing clothing laugh and shift through the shelves.

It's 1965 in Berkeley, California. It's the Summer Of Love. And Moe's Books is leading a revolution.

Inspired by the Beat Generation of the 1950s, the 100,000 hippies who gathered throughout San Francisco rejected the norm and refused to conform. They questioned the government. They questioned what it meant to be alive, to be present. A San Francisco Oracle article of the time called the Summer Of Love “a renaissance of compassion, awareness, and love, and the revelation of unity for all mankind.”

It was a time of exploration. Yes to love. Yes to sex. Yes to meeting new people. Yes to talking to strangers and meeting people from different cultures. Yes to new music. Yes to ideas from around the world. Yes to new ways of thinking. And there was no better way to explore all of these new concepts and find out more about themselves than by visiting Moe's Books.

Message Of The Social Movement During The Summer Of Love [Courtesy/Moe's Books]
Moe Moskowitz, And His Daughter, Doris - The Current Owner of Moe's Books [Courteys/ Moe's Books]

Moe's Books isn’t – and wasn't – any average book store. The four floors are filled with books held to a higher standard. A standard that was set by former New York City beatnik Moe Moskowitz back when he opened Moe's in 1959.

“What makes a good book... What makes it different from other books,” pondered Moe's daughter, the current owner of the iconic used book store. “Its spirit? The way it feels to hold it? The way it feels to have someone read it to you? The way you remember it? Its message? Then there's important science books... Important math books... Books that you'll go back to because you believe what it says. They're written by someone who knows something.”

Hippies that wanted to know more about Buddhist philosophies, about politics, about the arts... Moe's was the best place to gain that knowledge, but also the place to discover more about their own self. Moe's became a safe space amongst the political unrest in the area, a “source of protection,” said Moskowitz, where hippies could be themselves.

And the hippies and college students and off-the-grid travelers didn't even need money to shop at Moe's. Moe's is unique in that they trade books. Customers don't need a lot of money. They just need knowledge on a few topics. It fit into the concept of a new, fresh and free utopia at the time of the Summer Of Love, attractive to students who may not have had a lot of money but may have known about science, art or nature.

“People called Moe's their home,” said Moskowitz. “Some people have said they learned everything they ever needed to know from him and his books he recommended. My father died 20 years ago and they still come in and talk about the books he recommended. He had such a huge impact on so many people. He believed in freedom and other people's freedom. It was more than a book store. It was a gathering place. There were concerts… Poetry events. People felt happy to be here.”

Moe Represented Freedom of Expression, Which Was Felt Throughout His Bookstore [Courtesy/Moe's Books]
Berkeley Rock Band Poster Promoting Concert at Moe's [Courtesy/Moe's Books]
Moe's Bookstore Still Thriving In California Today [Courtesy/Moe's Books]

That sense of freedom and expression is something that Moskowitz is proud to be a part of. Carrying on the legacy of her father, a larger than life public figure who started Shambhala Publishing. Who was arrested for carrying “lewd” comic books, Zap Comix. Who allowed students with “interesting” ideas to sell their 'zines and books inside Moe's.

“I'm so incredibly proud to be a part of it,” she said. “I miss my dad a lot. He was a wonderful person. I wish he could be here. But my personal feeling is that it's a really important place. I need to do everything I can to keep it going and keep it strong. I believe in books. I believe in reading. I believe in being here now, getting lost in a book...”

And there's no better place to get lost in a book than at Moe's. While the Summer Of Love was 50 years ago, Moe's is still a place to be exposed to new ideas. It opens people's eyes and lets them explore who they really are through history, music, philosophy, science and art.

Gone are the hippies, with their round pastel glasses, their fringe, their headbands... Gone are the hippies, tuning in, dropping out...    But their ideas of personal freedom and self exploration are still huge, said Moskowitz.

She said: “Right now we don't feel free. We feel locked down to our jobs, the internet... But life is still life. We're still breathing. What if we could just be here now? Like they were back then. That would be great. It would be fun to go down the streets and have someone smile and say hi. That's what it was like when I was a kid here in Berkeley. We need that now.”

There's no better place to start than Moe's and its four stories and 200,000 new, used and rare books. There's no better place to get lost in the present while recreating the past.


Olivia Richman

A graduate of East Connecticut State University in Journalism, Olivia has written for Stonebridge Press & Antiques Marketplace among others. She enjoys writing, running and video games.

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