80.2 F
Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Box Office Stars

Paul Stieler loves the movies — and not just because he owns movie theaters. Not only does the 80-year-old Showplace Cinemas owner (who professes being addicted to theater popcorn since he was 10 years old) still make his way to his office at the North location each day, he and his wife Joanne also have a standing date each Sunday to see a movie at the theater — always with plenty of popcorn.

"I was born into the theater business; I’ve been around it all my life. It’s just in my blood,” he says with a smile. “I could write a book on the movie business.”

Paul proudly states movies have been his career his entire life — save for 10 years when he was not a part of the business after his father shut down his neighborhood theater in 1956. The Stieler legacy in the industry goes as far back as the 1920s, when Paul’s grandfather Tom Shields operated a nickelodeon theater at the corner of Walnut and Canal streets. Nickelodeons were the earliest motion-picture theaters, popular in the early 1900s and named after the nickel admission price.

Blockbuster Royalty – Since the 1970s, Paul Stieler, above, has worked to build his company, Showplace Cinemas. However, the Evansville native has been a part of the movie theater industry his entire life, working in the Royal Theater (below, left), which his father owned up until the 1950s.

That theater would expand in the 1930s to become the Royal Theater — Paul’s father Rudolph Stieler would operate the Royal until its closing in 1956. Almost a decade would pass before Paul would find himself again delving into the industry.

“I started working for the former Loews Corporation at the Downtown theaters in 1967 as a part-time manager. Then, they wanted me to take over the Victory and the Majestic (as manager), which I did,” he explains.

▲ Above, second from left, Paul and a friend heralded in the premiere of “Planet of the Apes” in 1968 by driving past movie goers in Downtown Evansville wearing costumes from the film. Above center, moviegoers line up outside Showplace North in the early 1990s to catch films such as “Far and Away,” “Lethal Weapon 3,” and “Fried Green Tomatoes.” Above right, Mick Stieler, center, and the Stielers cut the ribbon on the IMAX theater, connected to Showplace East, in October 2004.

It was the time when movies were making a comeback, says Paul. He remembers opening three movies — “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Wait Until Dark,” and “The Graduate” — and the business the three titles brought in convinced him it was time to jump back into owning theaters. In 1970, Paul partnered with Joe Koewler to purchase the Victory from Loews, launching the Evansville native back into the movie world.

“I tell this story quite often,” he says with a smile. “I started the business with $6,000 and worked hard. I’m proud that I’m self-made and I’m still working.”

The pair would go on to build North Park Cinemas, opening the twin-screen location on Christmas Day 1973 — Showplace North now calls that location home. Business continued to grow until Paul and Koewler split their partnership in 1976, leaving Paul with North Park. Nine years later, he would construct Showplace East on Morgan Avenue, kicking off the building of his cinema business in Evansville and the Tri-State.

Like their father, the Stieler children all have had a hand in the family business through the years. Paul says each of his five kids would begin doing work at the theaters when they were 12 years old.

“When I very first started, it was at the Majestic Theater,” says Dianne Miles, Paul’s daughter and current event coordinator at the new Newburgh Showplace Family Entertainment Center. “I sold tickets and concessions.”

Her older brother Mick — current chief financial officer and chief operating officer for Showplace — also took tickets and helped manage the Victory.

Four of Paul’s five children still are involved with the operations of Showplace — along with Mick and Dianne, son Mark is director of operations and daughter Debbie is manager of Showplace East. (His son David works in pharmaceutical sales.)

“It’s been really great,” says Mick. “Our family has made a living at this. You open a new movie every week so it brings something new to the table. It’s an exciting business.”

“Oh, it’s been so much fun,” adds Dianne. “I used to go up with my friends and watch movies in the balcony at the Victory Theatre. I think I saw ‘Love Story’ 15 times.”

Where some families may find working together difficult, the Stielers say the closeness of their family allows them to succeed in their business.

“None of us are really strong, egotistical types of people,” adds Mick. “We’re down to earth. We try to work with each other. We bring stuff up and we all discuss it. We make all our decisions locally and quickly.”

“I always say there’s three things I’ve got going for me,” says Paul. “One, common sense. Two, I’m not afraid to work. And three, I’m a gambler.”

Showplace’s new Family Entertainment Center, opened in October and connected to the Newburgh theater along Bell Oaks Drive, definitely was a gamble for Paul and his family. Though the project came together over a two-year period, Paul says it’s actually been an idea of his for longer than that.

“I thought about doing this eight years ago, when my oldest son Mick and I went out to Los Angeles to check out bowling lanes there,” he says. “We came back and somehow the project got put on the backburner. I started building other theater locations.”

The idea for an entertainment center would find life again with the Stielers when brothers Mick and Mark traveled to Dallas, Texas, to visit a seminar held by Brunswick Bowling. There the two were able to gather information about entertainment centers attached to movie theaters, which they brought back to Paul.

It’s All Fun and Games – above left, Showplace Cinemas CFO and COO Mick Stieler has grown up in theaters, just like his father. He left the industry briefly to work at a CPA firm, but that did not last. “After about six months I said, ‘Nope, no way,’ and came back. The movie business is too exciting,” he says. The newest addition to the Stieler’s portfolio of locations is the Family Entertainment Center connected to the Newburgh theater. The space includes bowling lanes, arcade games, a laser tag arena, and a restaurant and bar. The FEC also includes banquet and meeting rooms for rentals. Since its opening, the FEC has played host to the Castle High School bowling team practices (above).

“We realized it was a win-win situation,” says Mick. “It all goes hand-in-hand, since it’s all entertainment. Why have guests just watch a movie for two hours when they could spend five hours with you watching a movie then going bowling or play games?”

Encompassing a 30,000-square-foot space, the FEC features 20 bowling lanes (including an eight-lane boutique bowling area for private parties), a two-story laser tag arena (with a theme based off the movie “Avatar”), a mega arcade featuring the latest state-of-the-art games, and a restaurant and bar as well as banquet and meeting rooms.

While a few companies outside the area were responsible for the design elements, bowling lanes, and laser tag area, the Stielers called upon many local organizations as well to complete the project, from Fibercom Electrical, Custom Signs, GAMI, and Square Yard Carpets to Sonitrol, Jeff Norman Painting, Alstadt Plumbing, J&L Acoustics, and Baylor Heating and Air. Empire Contractors, a company Paul has used to construct his theaters since Showplace East was built in 1985, was the general contractor on the project.

“People I don’t know come up and thank us for doing this. They say ‘We needed this in this area,’” says Mick.

“I’ve seen people come in and they are amazed,” adds Dianne.

For their father, the self-proclaimed gambler, the Family Entertainment Center is another worthwhile investment in his long career in the movie industry — one he believes will continue to grow and pay off.

“I like to put things together. I enjoy putting things together,” says Paul. “And hopefully make them successful.
We think it’ll be very successful.”

▲ Christian Schmitz, Newburgh FEC laser tag specialist.

For more information on Showplace Cinemas, call 812-426-0133 or visit showplacecinemas.com.

Related Articles

Latest Articles