‘Enjoy the movies with us’: Love of films drives father and son duo to develop movie theater, entertainment complex

Published 3:00 am Friday, August 26, 2016

Chase and Jeff Taylor opened Continental Cinemas in 1998, and the father and son business partners are on the cusp of a major expansion that will add a bar and grill as well as bowling alley and arcade to create an entertainment complex.

Chase and Jeff Taylor opened Continental Cinemas in 1998, and the father and son business partners are on the cusp of a major expansion that will add a bar and grill as well as bowling alley and arcade to create an entertainment complex.

While movie theater chains dominate larger markets across the country, one father and his son are finding ways to survive and thrive in the relatively small city of Troy.

Jeff Taylor, president, and his son Chase, vice president, created Continental Cinemas in 1998 with a five-screen Cineplex just off of U.S. Highway 231 South in the northern part of Troy.

Since then, they have expanded to six screens, established a drive-in theater in Wicksburg and recently announced the addition of a bowling alley, bar and grill, and arcade.

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Chase was the one who pushed for starting the theater back in 1997, Jeff said.

Jeff worked with Troy University for 30 years doing lighting and sound for the live stage and movies before Continental Cinemas came about.

“I grew up watching the movies that he would run every night at the university,” Chase said. “I ran my first movie at 11 years old. That’s when I really got the bug in my blood.”

Chase said that they’ve made some good decisions and bad ones since they took out a loan to construct the theater in 1997.

“We’ve made some right decisions,” he said. “And other things we learned why you don’t do it that way.”

One example Chase gave is the location of the theater itself. While it is in the city limits, it is a few miles north of the crux of the city where the bulk of traffic and commercial development is.

“The location has been a thorn in our side,” Chase said. “It came down to dollars and cents when we chose the location. It would have cost millions to build a theater up by George Wallace [Drive], and it was just under a million here. Theaters are very expensive to build and operate. It’s a hard racket. When it’s good, it’s good; but when it’s bad, it’s bad.”

Chase said that the hope was that the city would see more northward expansion, but so far that hasn’t been the case. Still, the theater has managed to survive and Chase is still hoping for more northern development in the city’s future.

“We’ve proven that you can survive out here,” Chase said. “But I’m hoping that our expansion will lead to growth. I think it’s very important – and obviously I’m biased – but I think it’s very important for the city to grow north.”

One of the saving graces for the theater has been Troy University’s student population.

“Student attendance is huge,” Chase said. “It’s the number one asset in town by a million miles for us. That demographic is exactly in the roundhouse of who’s coming to movies and every one of our employees is a student.”

One way that the theater company has built that relationship with students is through the working with the University Activities Council to provide $1 movie nights on the first and third Wednesdays of each month that school is in session. At the end of last year, that dropped to just one Wednesday a month, but the Taylors said that they’re hopeful and confident that they’ll be able to do two Wednesdays a month again. That decision is up to the university though, they said.

“We had our first dollar movie night last Wednesday and we sold out every seat in the complex,” Jeff said.

In 2005, the Taylors made their first major expansion by creating the drive-in theater in Wicksburg.

“It mainly came from the desire to have a second location,” Chase said.

“And at that time, Dothan was under-screened,” Jeff added. “Plus with the location it can draw people from Ozark, Dothan and Enterprise from about an equal distance.”

Jeff said that people will even come from Panama City just because it’s a drive-in theater.

The Taylors said they chose a drive-in theater instead of another indoor complex because it was the easier and cheaper option.

“It was a way to open a second location with less financial strain,” Taylor said.

Business at the drive-in can be up and down, Chase said, with weather playing a big factor; but overall, the drive-in has done well for them.

Chase said that he’s been to a lot of smaller cities and towns and has not seen a theater as nice as Continental.

“It’s an incredibly nice theater for the size town we’re in,” Taylor said.

It will soon be getting even nicer with the addition of a 12-lane bowling alley complete with glow bowling and computer scoring, a bar and grill with food and drinks that can be taken into the theaters, and a modern arcade.

The auditoriums will also be upgraded during the project, including one being upgraded to a premium large format house that will feature recliners, a huge screen, and an enhanced atmospheric sound system, the Dolby ATMOS.

The Taylors said that they hope to expand their hours once the new additions are opened. “Please come out and enjoy the movies with us,” Chase said. “We’re depending on it.”