A ‘Hamilton’ rescue plan for book shop
NEW YORK — Lin-Manuel Miranda is already a composer, a lyricist, an actor and an author. Now he’s going to be a bookseller.
Miranda and three of his “Hamilton” collaborators have purchased the Drama Book Shop, a century-old theatre 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 theatre scene — in 2011, it was recognized with a Tony honour for excellence — but has struggled to survive the brutal Times Square real estate market and recently announced that it was being forced to move.
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 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 Miranda; Thomas Kail, director of “Hamilton”; Jeffrey Seller, the lead producer; and James L. Nederlander, president of the Nederlander Organization, which operates the theatre 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.) Seelen said that 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 theatre.
“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,” 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. “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 damaged the shop, 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.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda and three of his “Hamilton” collaborators have purchased the Drama Book Shop, a century-old New York theatre district institution in an effort to sustain the store.