Lin-Manuel Miranda, his Hamilton director Thomas Kail and producer Jeffrey Seller are coming to the rescue of a beloved New York bookstore. Along with theater owner James L. Nederlander, the group has agreed to buy the beleaguered Drama Book Shop in Manhattan’s theater district.
The new owners, with support from the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment, will reopen the soon-to-close bookstore in the fall of 2019, according to an announcement today.
The Drama Book Shop, in various locations, has been catering to the city’s theater community for a century, offering what’s considered one of the largest selections of plays, scripts and related materials in the country. The space is a frequent home to readings, book parties and get-togethers for the theater crowd, and even won a special 2011 Tony Award for excellence.
But huge rent increases made the shop’s current location (since 2001) on West 40th Street untenable. According to Media and Entertainment Commissioner Julie Menin, a monthly rent hike from $18,000 to $30,000 was unaffordable for longtime owner Rozanne Seelen. The shop will close Jan. 20.
The 84-year-old Seelen has been operating the shop since the death in 2000 of her husband Arthur Seelen, who purchased the store in 1958. Rozanne Seelen recently told The New York Times that she was selling the store “for the cost of the remaining inventory, some rent support in the store’s final weeks,” and a pledge to keep her on as a consultant.
“My first experiences directing in New York City were at the Arthur Seelen Theater in the basement of the Drama Book Shop,” said 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.”
Said Menin, “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. 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.”
After reading press accounts of the situation, Menin contacted Seelen and learned that longtime friends Miranda and Kail were interested in helping. Kail and Miranda then recruited Seller, with Nederlander soon joining the rescue effort. In November, the investors told Menin they were looking for “a long term, viable solution.”
Menin and the new buyers, after discussing space needs, rent and suitable neighborhoods, toured possible theater district venues, and, “feeling confident” a move could be worked out the new owners signed a letter of agreement to purchase.
A new location and opening date will be announced soon.