William J. Stembler isn’t kidding when he says “exhibition’s in my blood.” The chairman and CEO of Georgia Theater Co. is the third generation of his family to be involved in the biz.
“My grandfather’s first theater was a stable he converted, back in the silent-movie era, and then he built theaters around Atlanta,” he recalls. “Then my father ran the business from 1950 until 1986, when we sold to UA.”
Stembler became a VP at United Artist theaters, overseeing the Southeast, before starting his own company in 1988, and opened theaters in Florida and the Carolinas. In 1991, he formed the Georgia Theater Co., and bought 50 screens back from United Artists. Since then, the company has grown to become one of the 20 largest circuits in the U.S., with 272 screens in 27 locations and 10 more to open soon.
“We’re still small compared to the major three circuits, but I don’t think we need to be much bigger,” he says. “I prefer to concentrate on Georgia, where our offices are, and I like to have mid-sized markets where I can have a better feel for what’s going on.”
Stembler, however, keeps his eye on the future. “We’re currently converting our whole circuit to digital,” he says. “It’s the future.”