The Drama Book Shop — the New York theatre world's best known and best loved purveyor of plays, biographies, and all published works theatrical— will open in its new, roomier location at 250 W. 40th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues on Dec. 3 at 10 AM. The store closed its old second floor Seventh Avenue location on Nov. 28 after 20 years of business.
For those 20 years, theatre artists, critics, academics and enthusiasts were well acquainted with the store's nondescript Seventh Avenue entrance (next to a strip joint), the very slow elevator that takes patrons to the book shop's second-floor digs, the knowledgeable staff and the cramped quarters, in which every inch of wall space is covered with plays and theatre-related works of history, theory and criticism.
The shop is owned by Rozanne Seelen and was run by her and her husband, Arthur, until the latter died in 2000. The two bought the concern in 1958 (the store has existed since 1918). As with many another Times Square business, skyrocketing Midtown rents drove Ms. Seelan to find another location. (For a while, a Brooklyn space was considered.) The new space, which boasts about five times the space, rents for $1000 less a month than the Seventh Avenue location, said Allen L. Hubby. "The high rents of Times Square end at 41st Street," Hubby explained.
Hubby has returned to the Drama Book Shop as co-owner with Seelen. He worked at the store for eight years in the '80s, before a decade-long stint as the Director of Operations at Dramatists Play Services, Inc. Hubby's involvement will allow Seelan to concentrate on her duties as head book buyer. "I'd like to work 40 hours a week," instead of 60, joked Seelen.
Hubby said the store probably will increase the number of titles it carries—50,000, at present—by 20 percent. Also planned is an expansion of the film, video and design sections. Seelen and Hubby are joined by longtime general manager and manager Domenic Silipo and Sasha Domnitz, as well as Mindy Luce, recently promoted to assistant manager, and Ric Anderson, second assistant manager.
There will be no more slow elevators for The Drama Book Shop after Dec. 3. The new rooms on W. 40th include a ground floor entrance with a glass storefront, and a high-ceilinged first floor that stretches back a couple hundred feet. Stairs lead to a second, balcony-like half floor, visible from the front entrance, and adorned with a few opulent pieces of furniture acquired from the set of the Baz Luhrmann film "Moulin Rouge."
The Luhrmann lounge will be used for readings and presentations (always a difficult proposition in the former locale), as will a 60-seat basement space christened the Arthur Seelen Theatre. The theatre, once completed (construction is ongoing) will be the home of the Drama Book Shop's own resident theatre company, Back House Productions, founded by Thomas Kail, Neil Stewart, Anthony Veneziale and John Buffalo Mailer (Norman's boy) in 1998.
Additionally, the Drama Book Shop now carries Playbill merchandise (canvas bags, glasses, cards, program holders, etc.) and its own line of t-shirts and sweatshirts.
Arthur Seelen, the actor turned store owner whose Drama Book Shop in Manhattan is ground zero for those in search of plays and theatrical references, died Feb. 7, 2000, after an illness.
Mr. Seelen was 76 and died in his home in Manhattan, according to a book store manager.
Mr. Seelen, who was known to attend the theatre several times a month with his wife, who survives him, was friendly with such industry people as actor Hal Holbrook and playwrights Robert Anderson and Michael Weller, who were no strangers to the shop.
As an actor, the Brooklyn-born Mr. Seelen (originally Seelenfreund) appeared in an Ohio State University production of Watch on the Rhine (where he was a graduate student 1945-46) and made his New York debut as Sebastien DuBois in Deputy of Paris at the Henry Street Playhouse. He performed in a pre-Broadway tryout of The Circus of Dr. Lao in Chicago in 1958 and understudied George C. Scott (and went on a few times) in Broadway's The Wall in 1960. He also performed in many stock stagings, from western New York to New Hampshire, and on TV presentations in the 1940s and 1950s, once playing Dromio of Ephesus in a CBS production of The Comedy of Errors (1948). He had been a member of the Screen Actors Guild and Actors' Equity Association.
At The Drama Book Shop, Mr. Seelen maintained a well-informed staff, and believed in the sort of personal service associated with boutiques of long ago.
"His big thrust was not letting people leave the store without more information than they came in with," said Sasha Domnitz. "He insisted we put information in their hands...where they could find it if they couldn't find it here. He never liked us to say, 'No, that's not possible.'"
—By Robert Simonson
and Kenneth Jones