Everybody knows the indie bookstore is deader than the brick-size mobile phone, except when it’s not. Last month Berkeley institution Moe’s defied the death-to-indies meme by wrapping up an online cookbook cataloging project that lets shoppers scroll its hefty collection of rare and new titles.
Owner Doris Moskowitz — daughter of Moe, who passed away 14 years ago, and who opened Moe’s Books in 1959 — told WTF that the Telegraph Avenue shop has managed to survive precisely because it jumped on Internet sales relatively early. “We were trying to learn from the Powell’s model,” Moskowitz said. “Somehow you can walk in and buy books from the shelves that are also cataloged online.”
But Moscowitz and her buyers figured that would put national — even international — online cookbook shoppers on an equal footing with Moe’s local clientele, the ones who wander in and browse the physical shelves for out-of-print copies, say, of Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book or Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Cooking. So, a compromise: Only new cooking titles, rare cookbooks (tagged “collectible” on the Moe’s website), and books from Moe’s Oakland warehouse are shoppable online. Cookbooks made up about 5 percent of Moe’s overall sales of $2.7 million in 2010.
You can currently browse seven pages of collectible books, from 1977’s Food in Chinese Culture (K.C. Chang, editor) for $50, to Geschichte das Weinbaus, a three-volume history from 1923 of Germany’s pioneering Bassermann-Jordan winery, $750. Or you can show up at Moe’s physical shop and browse a used cookbook selection running to approximately 2,600 titles, a strictly local resource Moskowitz likens to the farmers’ market: “What we have on the shelves here is fresh, ripe, and just came in. When I go to the farmers’ market, I don’t have a list, I come with an open mind, buy what’s interesting, what’s local and ripe right now. That’s how local book stores work.”
And they work, in part, by cultivating a global clientele online. At least, that's Moskowitz's hope.