Lin-Manuel Miranda and HAMILTON Team Are the New Owners of The Drama Book Shop
As BroadwayWorld previously reported, the historic Drama Book Shop, located just steps from the heart of Times Square, will leave its 40th Street home because of recent rent escalations.
Now, it has been announced that Lin-Manuel Miranda, along with three of his Hamilton collaborators, Thomas Kail, Jeffrey Seller, and James L. Nederlander, have purchased the iconic shop, in an effort to keep it afloat. The group will find the store a more affordable home in Midtown.
The storefront book shop and theatre venue will be closing its doors on January 20th at its West 40th Street location, which has been the book shop's home since 2001. With the guidance of Media and Entertainment Commissioner Julie Menin, and investment and management from Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, Jeffrey Seller, and theatre impresario James L. Nederlander, the Drama Book Shop is expected to reopen in the fall of 2019 at a new location in the theater district.
"The Drama Book Shop is beloved by New York City's theatre community, and we simply could not stand by and watch a uniquely New York independent bookstore disappear," said Media and Entertainment Commissioner Julie Menin. "We are delighted to be playing a part in assuring this vital cultural resource can remain in midtown, for New Yorkers and tourists from all over the world to enjoy, and we know it will be in extremely capable hands."
"My first experiences directing in New York City were at the Arthur Seelen Theater in the basement of the Drama Book Shop," said Thomas Kail. "Thanks to the generosity of owners Allen Hubby and Rozanne Seelen, I had a small theater company that was in residence there for five years. I was lucky enough to be there the day the shop opened on 40th Street on December 3, 2001, and I am delighted to be part of this group that will ensure the Drama Book Shop lives on."
Commissioner Menin first learned of the book shop's imminent closure in an October New York Times article. Menin reached out to the manager of the book shop to see if there was anything the City could do to help. She was informed that a rent hike from $18,000 to $30,000 was unaffordable, but that longtime friends Lin-Manuel Miranda and Thomas Kail were also interested in offering help. Kail and Miranda then called Jeffrey Seller to make him a part of the effort to purchase the book shop, and James L. Nederlander, whose father, Jimmy Nederlander, Sr. introduced him to the Book Shop, joined the endeavor. At a November meeting, Seller told Commissioner Menin that his group of investors were looking for a long term, viable solution.
After a discussion of desired square footage, rent numbers, and suitable neighborhoods, MOME and the buyers toured spaces in the theatre district that could possibly house the book shop for the next 100 years. After many meetings and several site visits, the buyers felt confident in the City's ability to successfully move the Drama Book Shop into a location that fits their needs and signed a letter of agreement to purchase the shop from longtime owner Rozanne Seelen. MOME and the new owners will soon announce the new location and an opening date in 2019.
Founded in 1917 by the Drama League, the Drama Book Shop became an independent store in 1923. It has moved several times, but since 2001 it has been located in a 5,000-square-foot space on West 40th Street in Manhattan. The basement houses a 60-seat black-box theater, and a staff of about 20, many of whom are actors or have theater-related interests, assists the thousands of students, theater professionals, and award-winning artists who pass through the shop's doors. In 2011 the Drama Book Shop received a Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre. Given since 1990, these awards are bestowed on individuals, organizations, and institutions that have demonstrated profound achievement in theater but are ineligible in any of the established Tony categories.
Secure in its reputation as the city's best source for theatrical works - it keeps 8,000 plays in stock - the shop has begun to nurture and sponsor them, as well. When a troupe with a musical that originated at Wesleyan University needed urban rehearsal space in 2002, it received carte blanche to convene downstairs in the store's 50-seat Arthur Seelen Theater, named for the owner's late husband. "In the Heights" went on to win several Tony Awards in 2008.
On the main floor, patrons post casting calls and other dollops of theatrical catnip on a large bulletin board by the entrance. Chairs, some of them authentic theater seats cadged from a shuttered Philadelphia playhouse, are sprinkled around, inviting browsers to relax and read - or to find monologues and scenes for auditions and classes.