As movie theater companies continually strive to beat the competition by featuring more screens, stadium seating and digital sound, one theater chain is taking the movie-going experience into the future by reaching into the past.

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Muvico Theaters is integrating distinctive decor, signage and fixtures into each of its theaters to re-create the ancient movie palaces of the early 1900s. As examples, the company points to the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Olympia (now Gusman) Theater in Miami, Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood and Roxy Theater in New York.

"Our concept is to build large megaplexes that would bring back the glamour of the movie houses built in the 1920s and '30s," says Hamid Hashemi, president and CEO.

The company's most recent opening, Muvico Paradise 24 in Davie, Fla., emulates an Egyptian palace with hieroglyphics on 40-foot columns, murals of ancient Egypt, and marble floors imbedded with a colored-glass version of the Nile River. The Muvico Pompano 18 Theater in Pompano Beach, Fla., features a 1950s theme, and Pointe Orlando 21 is based on a children's book and includes a large IMAX 3D theater.

"We do the theming to transform our patrons from the minute they see the building from the road," Hashemi says.

But the theater's design is only part of the story. The amenities each offers goes beyond the traditional to include a more extensive variety of concessions, including lite meals; stadium seating; wider seats that recline; armrests that lift up; recording studio quality sound; and seats set back from the screen so there's not a poor viewing spot in any auditorium. Add to that a staffed guest-services desk, valet parking on busy nights, and on-site childcare for children age 3 to 8.

"Parents with young children had really lost their spontaneity in going to the movies," Hashemi says. To remedy that, the company wanted to give parents a last-minute option.

The childcare area, which costs the price of a movie ticket at approximately $6.50 to $7 for three hours, is staffed by certified teachers and is equipped with computers, arts and crafts, table games and toys. "It's designed like a pre-K program," he says.

While catering to parents is one of Muvico's goals, it also plans to focus on young professionals at select theaters, the first of which is expected to open next year in Boca Raton, Fla. The complex will include theaters with balconies. The second level, accessed by a separate entrance and elevator or grand staircase in the theater lobby, will feature a bar, restaurant, private party room and billiards room, as well as a family room complete with fireplace and movie memorabilia. From this level, there will be access to the theater balconies, which will feature custom-designed love seats with foot rests, and tables - designed to hold bar drinks, wine bottles or champagne on ice - between every few seats.

"It provides a group experience, yet it is very intimate," Hashemi says. "You can spend four hours in this theater. It really becomes a total destination."

Muvico's focus on customer service stems from its earliest beginnings. The company started in 1984 when Hashemi bought his first theater, a tri-plex in Coral Springs, Fla. Although it was thriving at first, the opening of an 8-plex nearby affected business. Determined to be competitive, he visited lots of theaters and talked with several distributors throughout the country.

"Basically, the answer was really very simple - build a better mousetrap and offer better service," Hashemi says. The company then bought several older theaters and started turning them around.

Today, Muvico has four themed theaters open, with plans for 12 more locations over the next 18 months. Theaters are being developed or considered in other Florida cities as well as Memphis, Tenn.; Philadelphia; Atlanta; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; and Baltimore. The mid-Atlantic region is one of its target areas, Hashemi says, but it will consider sites as far west as the Mississippi River. The company also plans to renovate four other theaters in Florida that were purchased in its earlier years.

"Our plan is to build 10 to 12 locations a year over the next five years," he says, adding that expansion has always been the strategy. "The pie is only so big, and the only way to grow this business is by building new."

In its site selection, Muvico looks for 200,000 people within a 5-mile radius and 600,000 within a 10-mile radius, Hashemi says, adding that he prefers to locate the 80,000-plus sq. ft. theaters near a major highway for better visibility. The company will consider entertainment-based retail centers, projects that have other entertainment options, and regional malls.

With all the theaters fighting for the same dollars, Hashemi is banking on the company's customer service and other extras to draw customers in and keep them coming back. "Patrons are going to go and pay that $6.50 or $7 to a theater that's going to treat them the best," he says. "Attendance is what justifies the investment."

Retail outlet: Muvico Theaters

Headquarters: 3101 N. Federal Highway, 6th Floor, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33306; (954) 564-6550.

Real estate contact: Barry Ruzat, vice president of real estate

Number of units: 8

Average size: 80,000-plus sq. ft.

Niche: large megaplexes designed like past movie houses with unique customer amenities

Expansion plans: 10 to 12 new theaters a year over the next five years, east of the Mississippi River