Founded in 1917 by the Drama League, the Drama Book Shop became an independent store in 1923. It has moved several times, but since 2001 it has been located in a 5,000-square-foot space on West 40th Street in Manhattan. The basement houses a 60-seat black-box theater, and a staff of about 20, many of whom are actors or have theater-related interests, assists the thousands of students, theater professionals, and award-winning artists who pass through the shop's doors. In 2011 the Drama Book Shop received a Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre. Given since 1990, these awards are bestowed on individuals, organizations, and institutions that have demonstrated profound achievement in theater but are ineligible in any of the established Tony categories.
Secure in its reputation as the city’s best source for theatrical works — it keeps 8,000 plays in stock — the shop has begun to nurture and sponsor them, as well. When a troupe with a musical that originated at Wesleyan University needed urban rehearsal space in 2002, it received carte blanche to convene downstairs in the store’s 50-seat Arthur Seelen Theater, named for the owner's late husband. “In the Heights” went on to win several Tony Awards in 2008.
On the main floor, patrons post casting calls and other dollops of theatrical catnip on a giant bulletin board by the entrance. Chairs, some of them authentic theater seats cadged from a shuttered Philadelphia playhouse, are sprinkled around, inviting browsers to relax and read — or to memorize monologues selected especially for them by the staff members, all of whom have backgrounds in theater and the visual arts.