How Lin-Manuel Miranda and Friends Made an Old Bookstore New

A sculptural illustration of a bookworm — 140 toes of scripts and songbooks, twisted alongside a metal skeleton — corkscrews throughout the Drama Book Shop in Manhattan. It begins with historical Greek texts and, 2,400 volumes later, spills into in a pile that features “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.”

This three,500-pound tribute to theatrical historical past is the centerpiece of the century-old bookstore’s new location, opening Thursday on West 39th Street.

The store — like so many bookstores across the nation — had brushes with demise, triggered not solely by e-commerce but in addition by hearth and flood, earlier than encountering a lease hike it couldn’t face up to, in 2018. The beloved establishment, the place college students, artists, students and followers might browse memoirs and bone up for auditions, was at risk of closing.

Then got here an surprising rescue. Four males enriched by “Hamilton,” together with the musical’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda; its director, Thomas Kail; its lead producer, Jeffrey Seller; and the theater proprietor, James L. Nederlander, purchased the shop from its longtime homeowners. Kail has a very shut relationship with the store — 20 years in the past, simply out of school, he fashioned a small theater firm in its basement. After he teamed up with Miranda, the 2 labored on “In the Heights” there.

“I was not born in a trunk; I was born in the basement of the Drama Book Shop,” Kail stated. “All of my early creative conversations and relationships were forged in that shop, and the thought of it not existing was painful. I couldn’t imagine New York City without it, and I didn’t want to imagine New York City without it.”

The retailer’s decorations embody armchairs used within the musical “Hamilton.”Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

The bookstore is opening the identical day movie adaptation of “In the Heights” is scheduled to be launched in theaters and on HBO Max, and Kail famous the thematic connections.

“‘Heights’ is about a different place in Manhattan where rents are going up and businesses are getting forced out,” he stated. “There’s an obvious and clear line.”

The “Hamilton” staff closed the shop’s earlier location on West 40th Street in January 2019 and put its contents in storage, anticipating reopening at a still-to-be-determined location later that 12 months. But New York actual property being what it’s, discovering that location and renovating it took longer than anticipated. Then the pandemic arrived, closing theaters, disrupting the retail and tourism sectors, and quieting Midtown.

Now, the Drama Book Shop is again, simply as Broadway gears up for a late summer season return. “As all the theaters are starting to put dates out there, it feels like we’re part of that opening gesture,” Kail stated.

Visitors can choose up books about theater (together with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s presciently titled memoir, “Unmasked”) in addition to “the play that just won a prize and the play that no one’s heard about,” Kail stated. The retailer will even promote uncommon books, similar to a first-edition of “Three Tall Women,” signed by Edward Albee, and a first-edition script of “West Side Story.”

Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York TimesCredit…Jeenah Moon for The New York TimesThe new location will provide new companies, together with a meals and drinks from a espresso bar.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Like many bookstores, the homeowners hope to enhance their revenue with a espresso bar and meals. But there’s a private flourish: Among the coffees bought can be a mix from Puerto Rico — a part of Miranda’s effort to assist farmers on the island the place his dad and mom are from.

“My hope is that we can continue to be a hub for the theater community,” Miranda stated. “I don’t expect we’ll make a great fortune, but I hope with the coffee we’ll break even.”

The inside — three,500 sq. toes on the principle flooring, plus a three,000 sq. foot basement — is designed by David Korins, the “Hamilton” set designer. There’s an octagonal banquette impressed by a bit of furnishings within the 1940 movie “The Shop Around the Corner” and, for “Hamilton” followers, a pair of armchairs which can be replicas of the one George Washington sits in through the musical’s cupboard battles.

The partitions characteristic greater than 125 theater-themed posters, 17 of which (“Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Crazy For You”) got to Kail by the literary agent Gilbert Parker, simply earlier than he died in 2019. There will even be a photograph of the canine Chester, a German spitz who typically lounged by the door on the earlier location; Chester is alive and nicely, a spokesman stated, however not permitted by well being rules now that meals is being bought.

A photograph of Chester, the German spitz who typically greeted guests on the previous location however isn’t allowed on the new one, can be on show.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

The purveyors are anticipating quite a lot of occasions, like guide signings and creator talks. And the basement — which isn’t but completed, however which homes a piano on which “Paciencia y Fe,” a track from “In the Heights,” was written — can be used for workshops and different packages.

Six individuals who labored on the retailer’s former location are rejoining the workers, a spokesman stated.

Because of continuous concern in regards to the coronavirus, the shop may have a capability restrict when it opens; the homeowners are recommending that folks make free reservations on-line, however there will even be a line for these with out reservations.

Asked what he hopes to see as soon as the store is open, Korins stated, “Everyone would hope the next Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tommy Kail will be sitting there, conjuring up their next project.”