Moe's Books, at xxxx Telegraph Ave., has been awarded a $7,000 grant by bestselling author James Patterson. Photo: Moe's Books
Moe’s Books, at 2476 Telegraph Ave., has been awarded a $7,000 grant by bestselling author James Patterson. Photo: Moe’s Books

The bestselling author James Patterson has given a $7,000 grant to Moe’s Bookstore on Telegraph Avenue, part of his pledge to donate $1 million to support independent bookstores.

Patterson is on a mission to increase childhood literacy and to help kids find books that will make them love reading. He created the grant program to strengthen independent bookstores to help them compete against chains and on-line book retailing.

Patterson started to give away grants in 2013 and had distributed $267,000 to 55 independent bookstores by February, according to the American Booksellers Association. Patterson, who is one of the country’s top-selling authors — he has sold more than 300 million books — then announced he would do a second round of donations. He did not establish any set criteria to win the grants, except that bookstores be independent, be viable, and have a children’s section.

“Our bookstores in America are at risk,” Patterson told the New York Times. Publishing and publishers as we’ve known them are at stake. To some extent the future of American literature is at stake.”

Doris Moskowitz, the owner of Moe’s, read about Patterson’s plans and sent him a letter asking for $19,000. She told Patterson she would use the funds to enlarge Moe’s children’s section, to give bonuses to long-time employees, and to repair some of the store’s floors. The linoleum on the third and fourth floors of Moe’s is 35 years old and is “breaking down rapidly,” wrote Moskowitz.

“We need to replace the linoleum on our third and fourth floors which house the bulk of our 200,000 titles. These floors were state-of-the-art in 1979 when my parents built our “new’ building. We have not been able to afford this much-needed repair,” she wrote in her application.

Doris Moskowitz plans to use some of the $7,000 grant to enhance Moe’s children’s section. Photo: Doris Moskowitz

Moskowitz heard a few weeks ago that Moe’s would be awarded the $7,000 grant. She wanted to fly back to New York to pick up the check at a ceremony at the book industry’s biggest trade show, Book Expo America, but the store could not afford the plane fare, she said.

But the $7,000 check is going to help.

“We feel so good about this (the grant),” said Moskowitz. “We need support from our community and he is a part of our community. At first I thought community meant the neighborhood around us. He cares about literacy. He cares about independent bookstores. That means a lot.”

Moskowitz isn’t exactly certain how she will spend the funds, but she intends to make the children’s section a larger focal point in the store. Moe’s sells new children’s books, but also has a collection of used classic books, like The Call of the Wild by Jack London and Stuart Little by E.B. White.

“Our terrific Classic Young Readers’ book section, well known as a beautiful blend of the highest quality new titles with unusual treasures from our rare book room, could be the focal point of a long overdue upgrade to our children’s books,” Moskowitz wrote in her application. “Improving this section could encourage more parents and children to visit which would help the whole neighborhood.”

Some of the classic children’s titles for sale at Moe’s. Photo: Doris Moskowitz

Ironically, Patterson’s books don’t sell particularly well in Berkeley, said Moskowitz. Patterson writes thrillers, many featuring the psychologist Alex Cross, and Berkeley residents tend to like more literary works. Moe’s does carry his young adult books.

The rise of Amazon and other online booksellers has deeply affected independent booksellers around the country. People often browse independent bookstores and then buy books for a heavy discount on Amazon. Bookstores have had to be inventive in recent years and many have started to sell other items to stay afloat, like cards, candy, and plants. Some have cafés to generate extra revenue.

Moe’s Books opened in Berkeley in 1959 and was one of a group of bookstores that helped create the literary climate of the times. The business moved to its current building at 2476 Telegraph Avenue around 35 years ago. Moskowitz said the rent is reasonable – she and her siblings own the building – but that the store is so large it is difficult to keep up with needed repairs and improvements. The store has 25 employees and 200,000 new and used books.

Moskowitz said the economic situation of Moe’s is fragile. The fire that destroyed the Sequoia Apartments on Telegraph and Haste in 2011 reduced the block’s foot traffic to her store. In fact, Moe’s sits on one of the toughest retail sections of Telegraph.

“Sales have been terrible,” said Moskowitz. “We have been unglued about what to do about sales. It’s been a period of great anguish.”

Moskowitz hopes that Sundays on Telegraph, which brings bands and street vendors to Telegraph Avenue every Sunday in the summer, will help.

Patterson has given out grants to a number of other Bay Area bookstores, including Book Passage in Corte Madera and Hicklebee’s in San Jose.

Moe’s Books honored with historical plaque (02.11.14)
Snapshot: Doris Moskowitz, owner of Moe’s Books (12.08.11)

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...