Ever wonder where lost luggage goes to die? Probably not, but someone did, and decided to create a way for you and I to feast on its carcass. This luggage underworld is called The Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama.
Do you remember that time your baby seal skin suitcase was “misplaced” at DFW Airport? Your grandma painstakingly sewed it with her own arthritic fingers from your childhood pets after that mining accident in Northern Alaska. Sure it was sad, but you would never be without Shirley and Buzz again. Until the airline lost them. You called and called, but since you never bothered to fill out that little ticket with your name and address, and there are so many other baby seal suitcases just like it (thus Grandma’s arthritis), you never got it back.
This real life situation happens all day every day to people throughout the U.S.. Airlines can’t keep up with all of it, so they give 90 days for you to magically find your luggage before they shrug their shoulders and chunk it onto a huge pile in the back of a trailer. It all goes to Scottsboro, Al.
The Unclaimed Baggage Center purchases these bags, sorts through the mountains of it, cleans it up, and then resells it at what looks like an upscale thrift store. What kind of things are for sale there, what kind of deals? You remember that 60k Rolex watch you casually lost from your pile of other Rolex watches? Someone else bought it for half that at The Unclaimed Baggage Center. The $300 North Face backpack containing your Rolex, same deal. What ever happened to that full suit of armor you had in the carry-on they forced you to check at the gate? Also at the land of the lost luggage.
Over 4,000 new items come into the center every day, adding to the already 100,000 plus items in stock at any given time. The glorious flow of traveler’s tears continually provides you with fresh things to scoop up before the owners come alookin’. There is plenty of space for spelunking in the massive 40,000 square foot facility. It covers a full city block!
The store also has a tradition it has held for many years now, a treat for its customers if you will. Every business day at 2:30 pm, a random customer is chosen for the honor of opening a piece of luggage and gazing upon the treasure inside. It isn’t a total surprise of course, the luggage is cleaned and reviewed before you open it. This is a family friendly store. They don’t want a bottle of bubonic plague exploding on you like a facehugger from Alien.
How did this happen, you ask? Who was brilliant (evil genius?) enough to come up with the idea of turning one traveler’s woes into another traveler’s treasure? Doyle Owens, that’s who. He had the idea all the way back in the ancient days before internet. In 1970 he took out a $300 loan and bought a load of unclaimed baggage from a local airport and resold the items. It was a hit, so he slowly began building relationships with airlines all over America, building his truly unique business.
While The Unclaimed Baggage Center isn’t the most famous of stores, it manages to attract over a million visitors each year. Speaking to those who have been there, and reading through reviews and stories is a gauntlet of amazing finds. Some say it isn’t well balanced, that there are some overpriced items within, but many more tell of amazing deals. Most jewelry is appraised and sold around 50% of its original value. There is unique clothing galore, strange items, electronics, and so much more. If anything it is amazing to wander through and imagine what kind of person would try to travel with that?
If you happen to be in Scottsboro and need a new diamond tennis bracelet, or some sweet African tribal masks for your Ebay store, swing by The Unclaimed Baggage Center. Whether you end up finding your baby seal skin suitcase or not (grandma can make another), it is a memorable experience that you will talk about for years!
If you’re not able to go today, they have a pretty entertaining Instagram account with photos of the coolest finds! You can follow them here.