Lin-Manuel Miranda and Friends Purchase Drama Book Shop
By Michael Paulson
Jan. 8, 2019
Original article link: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/08/theater/lin-manuel-miranda-hamilton-drama-book-shop.html
Lin-Manuel Miranda is already a composer, a lyricist, an actor and an author. Now he’s going to be a bookseller.
Mr. Miranda and three of his “Hamilton” collaborators have purchased the Drama Book Shop, a century-old theater district purveyor of scripts, sheet music and other stage-related reading material.
The surprise move is an effort to sustain the store, which is a mainstay of New York’s theater scene — in 2011 it was recognized with a Tony honor for excellence — but has struggled to survive the brutal Times Square real estate market and recently announced that it was being forced to move from its current location.
The rescue plan is a joint venture between the “Hamilton” team and the city, which has pledged to find the store an affordable space in Midtown.
“The store is a gem and a cultural institution in New York, and we want to make sure it’s saved,” said Julie Menin, the mayor’s media and entertainment commissioner. As precedent for the arrangement with the bookstore, she cited the city’s work with the Berklee College of Music to save a Manhattan recording studio.
The Drama Book Shop, which currently sells about 155,000 items a year, will close at its current location, on West 40th Street, on Jan. 20, and will reopen at a new location, not yet being named, in the fall.
The new owners of the store are Mr. Miranda; Thomas Kail, the director of “Hamilton”; Jeffrey Seller, the lead producer; and James L. Nederlander, the president of the Nederlander Organization, which operates the theater in which the show’s Broadway production is running. They purchased the store from Rozanne Seelen, whose husband, Arthur Seelen, had bought it in 1958. (He died in 2000.) Ms. Seelen said she sold it for the cost of the remaining inventory, some rent support in the store’s final weeks, and a pledge to retain her as a consultant.
“It’s the chronic problem — the rents were just too high, and I’m 84 years old — I just didn’t have the drive to find a new space and make another move,” she said. “Lin-Manuel and Tommy are my white knights.”
The new owners all frequented the bookstore at various points when they were seeking to build careers in the theater.
“When I was in high school I would go to the old location and sit on the floor and read plays — I didn’t have the money to buy them,” Mr. Miranda said in a telephone interview from Puerto Rico, where he is preparing to star in a three-week run of “Hamilton” in San Juan that opens on Friday. “After college Tommy Kail and I met in the Drama Book Shop basement, and I wrote a good deal of ‘In the Heights’ there.”
In 2016, after a burst pipe caused damage to the shop, Mr. Miranda came to its aid by urging his fans to patronize it. The store needed a lot more help this time.
“They’re like family to us,” he said, “and when we heard that the rent increase was finally too precipitous to withstand, we began hatching a plan.”
The store is particularly important to Mr. Kail, whose post-college theater venture, Back House Productions, was a resident company at the store. “I was in many senses professionally born in that bookshop’s basement — I spent the first five years of my career there,” he said in a telephone interview from London, where he was checking in on the “Hamilton” production there.
Mr. Kail and Mr. Miranda both said that they were also inspired by “It’s a Wonderful Life,” in which townspeople rally to save an endangered family banking business. “There was no hesitation,” Mr. Kail said. “The Building and Loan was struggling, and we could do something.”
Mr. Seller’s office, which is already running a “Hamilton” merchandise store in Midtown, will oversee the day-to-day management. He said the book shop would have a revamped website and expanded programming; the goal, he said, would be to break even, which in recent years the store has done occasionally but not consistently.