ROCKFORD — A new bookstore coming to the heart of downtown will stock its shelves with vintage and hard-to-find titles that you can take home for just a few bucks.
Maze Books is a project from Dave Pedersen, an author and Army veteran who returned to his hometown in mid-March after about 10 years away from the city.
Pedersen, 40, who most recently worked as director of volunteers for the Veterans’ Home at Manteno, signed the lease Tuesday at 117 S. Third St., Suite A, in the city’s Block 5 neighborhood. He plans to open in June and will also be a vendor at Rockford City Market.
“There’s a need in downtown for an independent bookstore. Rockford doesn’t have one and every downtown needs an independent bookstore,” he said. “To be a part of Block 5, that’s as good as it gets, right? There’s not a better spot.”
The 1,100-square-foot space will be filled with thousands of paperbacks and vintage books on topics ranging from social psychology and existentialism to vintage fantasy and horror from a diverse array of authors.
Pedersen will carefully curate the selection, but he won’t censor it. In fact, he sees reading banned books and outdated ideas as a way to learn our history unfiltered from its source.
“It’s better to have an informed opinion. To know your sources and to read banned books and dig in deep and try to understand the world a little bit better from the people who have come before us,” Pedersen said. “We don’t learn from that by censoring that kind of stuff. We learn by investigating it.”
About 80% of the books at Maze will be used, both donated and purchased by Pedersen, who plans to sell most used books for roughly $3-$5.
“I’m not just going to have books, I’m going to have books that are affordable,” said Pedersen, who is also a former vice president for AFSCME Locals 2794 and 1563. “You’re not going to pay what you would pay at some other used book shops. It’s going to specifically be to get inventory in and get it out in the community.”
The shop is modeled, in part, after Rubber Rose Books and Print in Kankakee, where every book is $5.
Pedersen, who was working at the veterans home as COVID-19 changed life across the country, decided to leave public service to pursue writing after he found solace in poetry and writing during the toughest stretches of the pandemic. He is now pursuing a Master’s of Fine Arts degree at Northwestern University.
He plan to use those connections to academia to hold a variety of events, including some for aspiring writers, poets and other creatives, as well as those who appreciate the art of literature.
“Rockford’s art scene in the last 10 years has just taken off, and I think literature really needs to catch up where the visual arts are at,” Pedersen said. “Literature is art. It just kind of gets forgotten about.”
The bookstore will be located next to Luna’s Datura’s Curious Gifts in the building owned by Brio Properties.
“I love the balance between him and Luna … just unique, cool things,” said Paul Sletten, who runs Brio Properties.
He said Brio has been replacing windows, renovating rooms as they become vacant and converted part of the building to an Airbnb.
“This storefront was kind of like the big piece of the puzzle,” Sletten said. “There couldn’t have been anybody better than Dave.”
Old books can serve as a time capsule of sorts to how past generations thought and acted. They can offer serious lessons on our own history or humorous quirks that make us shake our head and reflect about how far we’ve come.
Pedersen said among the old titles he collects are books six and seven decades old about UFO sightings, even though he’s not a believer in alien visitors himself.
“I love America’s response to not understanding what they’re seeing in the sky,” he said. “Going back to reading about that from the 50s and 60s is so interesting to see what the mind can come up with when it doesn’t know what it sees.”
He hopes Maze Books will offer a vibe that allows patrons to decompress with a good book, and he said the type of books offered will change to reflect what the community wants.
“The independent bookstore, that is a place for expression,” Pedersen said. “It’s not subject to taxpayer dollars. It’s not subject to bureaucrats. It’s the community. It’s what they want.”
Contact | Maze Books
Want to donate a used book to the store? Email email@example.com.