Diamond in the Rough: Carol Moore brings caring touch to Michigan theatre circuit

Cinemas Features

If you ever met Carol Moore outside the cinema industry, you would be sure she was a caregiver or schoolteacher. Carol has spent most of her life teaching those around her not only the aspects of work but the values of being a responsible human being by affirming each person she encounters with grace and respect. While she spends most of her time as the principal of Moore Theatres in southwestern Michigan, she also makes every effort to assist her employees with growth opportunities in aspects of life, not just the cinema. Carol has succeeded in a male-dominated channel of entertainment and was even told by her father she would never go to college since “that is what men do.”

Carol Moore was born in a small suburb just outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and grew up in modest surroundings. She says that her parents were wholesome and grounded and kept things simple, which is why she seems to carry the same traits into her business attitude. She tells a wonderful story about her dad growing potatoes in the backyard “to earn a few extra dollars” and making the kids dig potatoes for hours at harvest time. “Well, that was enough for me to never want to grow vegetables ever again, and I will not can or store mason jars either,” she laughs. These down-to-earth Midwestern principles offer insight into why so many people enjoy her company.

In her attempt to evade the family garden, Carol put herself through vocational school and earned a certificate in banking. As she developed effective experience, she accepted her first job with IBM, working with the installation and management of the cash register division. She was to be a hard-working, innovative, determined entrepreneur from that point forward.

Carol left her roots in Wisconsin in 1970 and accepted a job as a kindergarten teacher in southwest Michigan. She found tremendous joy in helping five- and six-year-olds through traumatic moments such as lunch and their ABCs. It is easy to see that her core values involve helping other people get what they need. Carol recently bumped into a gentleman who recognized her and immediately told her it had been a long time since he had seen her. She admits she had no idea who this person was, but tried to stretch her memory out of politeness—to no avail. But her encounter was not over: The gentleman reminded her that she was his kindergarten teacher some 40 years ago (imagine that) and said that he still tells his family and children how lucky he was to have Ms. Moore as his teacher—she was his favorite after all these years.

In 1972, Carol walked into the Loma Theatre in her hometown of Coloma, Michigan, and after viewing a movie she asked for the manager. A gentleman by the name of Joe Chabot reported to her; at that very moment she looked him square in the eye and said, “I could run this place better than you.” To her surprise, Joe Chabot replied, “Really, when can you start?” That interaction started a lifetime career in the theatre business.

“Joe was always willing to listen, he was an innovative man who never stopped trying to do things better,” Carol recalls. Joe and Carol began a working relationship that lasted over 40 years until his untimely passing in 2015. “We always played that game of ‘good cop, bad cop.’ I tried to say something positive to every employee I met, and Joe…well, not so much. I remember Joe studying light bulbs and how they could save energy, and if we looked at one light bulb we looked at a thousand different styles, sizes, wattages–it got to the point when I finally told him, ‘If I could screw you into one of those sockets, I would!’” That is Carol to a tee, patient and indulging, but decisive.

After working with Joe to manage the cinema, she had an opportunity to take over the theatre ownership and began her first venture by leasing the Loma Theatre; that opportunity led her to buy the theatre outright. She then acquired the four-screen Ready Theatre in Niles. She and Joe continued to build their screen count by adding the Michigan Theatre in South Haven, M-89 Cinema in Otsego and the Wonderland Cinema in Niles, giving her control of 21 screens.

Carol is currently adding seven more screens with the opening of a theatre in Battle Creek, Michigan named The JC Cinema (as a tribute to her life partner Joe Chabot) in late April or early May. “The JC Cinema was originally an old grocery store. When we first saw it, I said: There is a big, ugly building, let’s make it a theatre,” she reports. It is her style to take a piece of coal and polish it until becomes a diamond. She has aspirations of revitalizing the Butterfield House, an old vaudeville-style theatre, and creating a live performing-arts center, extending her portfolio of exhibition facilities.

Carol serves on the board of the National Association of Concessionaires as a director-at-large. She has influenced the NAC board with consults on educational forums and action toward more diversity within the directors. She supports multiple NATO regional meetings and the NAC Convention by sending her managers and employees to educational opportunities at every turn. Carol believes that continuing education arms her employees with learning experiences but also life lessons that will improve their way of life.

In Carol’s view, the most innovative concepts for the cinema involve reserved seating. Moore Theatres has implemented reserved seating in their auditoriums and it has been a huge success, primarily on the concession side, as per-caps have climbed dramatically. Carol reports that patrons can buy tickets in advance with no service fees, selecting their preference of seating arrangements. They linger more in the lobby and concession areas, increasing their spend without worrying if they will get a good seat in the auditorium.   

When you are around Carol, you feel the passion that drives her. Her biggest personal goal is to treat every person, whether a patron or employee, vendor or buyer, with respect and love. She feels that the biggest challenge in today’s environment is to communicate with openness and transparency. “Too many people hide behind the facts,” she contends. She has no problem telling you exactly what she thinks and often wonders why others don’t do the same. “If everyone would just communicate clearly without clutter, the world would be a better place,” she maintains. You can see her practical application in managing her operations: She is fair but firm, friendly but clearheaded about her business.

Carol is very comfortable staying at home and has no aspirations to travel the world. She loves America, its attributes and landmarks. She finds as much joy visiting Washington, DC, with her grandchildren as some find visiting Paris or Rome. She is especially proud of her four boys, Scott, David, Ben and Robert, and enjoys spending time as much time as possible with her six grandchildren—who no doubt love the fact that Grandma runs movie theatres.