Lin-Manuel Miranda has a surprisingly personal reason for opening a bookstore in the age of Amazon
Along with being the creator of a little show called Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda is also known for his enthusiastic social media presence—including a rapid-fire tweeting style that helped spread the word about his future Broadway megahit back when it was still finding an audience.
Twitter, in other words, is one way to help fuel the biggest thing on Broadway, but at 39, Miranda still thinks small in a lot of ways, particularly when it comes to which businesses he supports and where he puts his money. He famously still lives in the same upper Manhattan neighborhood where he grew up, and his first musical, In the Heights, espouses the virtues of local communities and the stories people tell within them.
“I’m the old guy in the bodega who is still talking about boxers,” Miranda told a crowd at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York today. “I’m an aggressively small-business person.”
So when one small business he has a personal connection to recently found itself on the brink of oblivion, Miranda did what any civic-minded Broadway sensation would do: He bought it. That business is the Drama Book Shop, a century-old bookstore in midtown Manhattan that for decades doubled as a de facto incubator for playwrights, actors, and anyone else looking to break into New York City’s theatrical community.
It was in the bookstore’s basement theater where Miranda first met Thomas Kail, the stage director who would become his main collaborator on In the Heights and Hamilton. “He had the audacity to go to their basement, paint it black, and say, ‘We’re a black-box theater,” Miranda says of Kail.
Last year, the Drama Book Shop faced that oldest of Manhattan existential crises—a crushing rent hike—and was subsequently forced to leave its longtime home on West 40th Street. Miranda and Kail, along with Hamilton producer Jeffery Seller and theater owner James Nederlander, combined their resources to purchase the storied shop.
“It was really kind of extraordinary,” Miranda recalled. “The people who needed to show up for it did.” He said the shop will reopen in March, at a new location to be announced soon.
Then he added, with a mix of zeal and incredulousness: “We’re opening a bookstore in post-Kindle, post-Amazon America!”
Miranda told the story on a panel with Elizabeth Rutledge, the chief marketing officer of American Express, where the two discussed their partnership on a campaign to promote Small Business Saturday, which is November 30. The theater creator appeared recently in a commercial spot for Amex that features a number of businesses in his neighborhood.
You could make the argument that a physical bookstore is a bad business bet in 2019, but Miranda is convinced there’s an appetite for physical spaces in the digital era, a longing for communities based on physical proximity. And let’s not forget, it was a physical book—Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton—that serendipitously inspired the musical phenomenon that made Miranda a household name.
Of course, being in the brick-and-mortar business doesn’t mean the prolific social media user will be hanging up his smartphone anytime soon, and in fact he was retweeting quotes from today’s panel discussion within minutes after it ended.
“There are these pockets of community, even within the larger dumpster fire that is Twitter,” Miranda said.