A Hamilton rescue plan for New York bookshop by actor Lin-Manuel Miranda and collaborators

NEW YORK • Lin-Manuel Miranda is already a composer, a lyricist, an actor and an author. Now he is 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 recognised 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 Ms 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 autumn.

The new owners of the store are Miranda; Thomas Kail, director of the musical Hamilton; Jeffrey Seller, the lead producer; and Mr James L. Nederlander, president of the Nederlander Organisation, which operates the theatre in which the show's Broadway production is running.

They purchased the store from Mrs Rozanne Seelen, whose husband Arthur had bought it in 1958. Mr Seelen died in 2000.

Mrs 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 that opens today.

"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 patronise 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 Kail, whose post-college theatre 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.

Kail and Miranda both said that they were also inspired by It's A Wonderful Life (1946), in which townspeople rally to save an endangered family banking business.

"There was no hesitation," Kail said. "The Building and Loan was struggling and we could do something."

Seller's office, which is already running a Hamilton merchandise store in Midtown, will oversee day-to-day management.

He said that the bookshop 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.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2019, with the headline 'A Hamilton rescue plan for New York bookshop'. Print Edition | Subscribe