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A former Gap employee embarks on a quest to collect every in-store playlist

Old Gap store playlists have become a hot commodity among some collectors and former employees.
Sion Touhig
/
Getty Images
Old Gap store playlists have become a hot commodity among some collectors and former employees.

It was the blistering summer of 1992 in Dallas, Texas and Michael Bise had just graduated from college and needed a job.

He saw an ad in the paper for his local Gap store.

"You know, it was just seasonal sales. I needed something," he said.

Bise got the job, but he found something unexpected when he started.

"I went there in that very first day. It was just like, immediately, I was hit with the music," he said.

A soundtrack played over the speakers of that Highland Park Village Gap store as the customers browsed. Perhaps for them, it was in the background of their experience in that store, but for Bise, it was at the forefront.

He had an ear for music. He was a DJ in college. But this carefully crafted mix of music was like nothing he'd heard before.

"You know, classic R&B, and then it's followed by a modern pop song and then followed by acid jazz and then trip hop or something," he said.

Michael Bise hangs out in the backroom of the Gap in Dallas in 1999.
/ Michael Bise
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Michael Bise
Michael Bise hangs out in the backroom of the Gap in Dallas in 1999.

That music opened up Bise's world, and that first job turned into 15 years at Gap.

"And so it's like, I found a career, but I probably wouldn't have stayed if it hadn't been as fun being there and listening," he said. "If it was just drudgery, it would not have worked. I still have some of the best memories being in that store and learning how to do it all on my own. I'm serious. Those memories — the music brings all of it up."

Bise would collect the paper playlists that were posted in his break room each month — they were the same ones that were pinned up in Gap break rooms all across the country. The mixes were curated by an outside company Gap had hired called AEI Music.

A playlist from a Gap store in 1997
/ Michael Bise
/
Michael Bise
A playlist from a Gap store in 1997

But to Bise, they were special — not only because the music was good, but to him, they also represented what was happening beyond the doors of Gap stores.

"As the years went by, the tapes did seem to reflect what was going on in the country," he said. "There was a lot of experimentation at the beginning of the '90s. Then, you could, I mean, literally feel the change ... like September 11, 2001, it was very, very somber. And, you know, that's how the country was. You felt it.

A career change and a move meant he lost that stash of playlists he had meticulously collected. He is now an elementary school computer teacher. Then in 2010 a lucky break: In the flap of an old folder he found 24 Gap playlists.

The hunt was on.

Bise wanted to find every playlist from his years at Gap — 1992 to 2006. He started a blog where he posted the playlists he found and some that he simply remembered. Bise began soliciting playlists from former Gap employees on online forums. Then, in January of 2017, Bise got an email from someone in California.

"He said, 'I think I have what you need,'" he said.

That former employee had playlists from 1993 through 2000. And the responses are still rolling in. Bise only has a few incomplete years of music left to find.

"It's almost like doing a service because I have so many people tell me how much they enjoy it. And so, you know, even if I find 100% of everything I want, I'm always going to continue doing this," he said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.