Alabama was the only State I had not been to, so a road trip was planned to visit my 50th! In reviewing the top tourist attractions, as well as those on the quirky side, I discovered that the Unclaimed Baggage Center was in Alabama. I had read about this place full of lost treasures previously, so was extremely excited to add it to the itinerary.
The Unclaimed Baggage Center is in Scottsville, Alabama and was founded in 1970 when Doyle Owens borrowed a pickup truck and with a $300 loan headed to Washington D.C. to buy his first load of unclaimed baggage from Trailways Bus Line. He then sold the contents on card tables in an old rented house. In 1978 he started sourcing unclaimed baggage from airlines, and now the store has 1,000,000+ visitors a year from all over the US as well as internationally. They estimate they have over a million items for sale, and pre-pandemic were stocking 7,000 new items a day in the store.
How do the bags get there?
After the search for their original owners is exhausted, airlines sell lost luggage. Airlines spend three months searching through clues from the bag, any reservation information on the bag tag, or even some of the contents to identify the rightful owner. If the airline cannot match the luggage to the owner after 90 days, they pay a lost baggage stipend to the passenger. The bags are then sold to Unclaimed Baggage in Alabama. Since checking luggage often comes with a fee, more people are traveling with carry-ons, which are the Unclaimed Baggage Centers main luggage source. It is apparent to see in the store, that along with all the clothes that have been lost, there is an abundance of items that people take on planes, such as laptops, phones, kindles, sunglasses, neck pillows, passport wallets….
What makes Unclaimed Baggage Center different to a thrift store
The main difference is that many of the items are higher quality or in new / near new condition. This is because these are items that people wanted, and often new items are purchased to take on a vacation. The pricing at the unclaimed baggage center varies from 20% to 80% off retail. It is also huge, at 50,000 square feet. All items are sorted through, with about a third making them into the store, a third recycled and a third donated. All clothing is deep cleaned at their in-house dry cleaners. All jewelry is cleaned and appraised, while all electronics are wiped clean of any personal information as per the Department of Defense’s protocol.
Weird and wonderful finds
Over the 5 decades that the Unclaimed Baggage Center has been operating, there have been some strange items that people have lost. A lot of these are on display in the store such as Hoggle from the Labyrinth (puppet), a shrunken head, McDonalds golden arches, an Egyptian burial mask and a camera from the space shuttle (which was returned to NASA).
While nothing as exciting as the weird and wonderful items, I am pleased with my finds. Two Uniqlo winter jackets at 80% off retail (I bought two different colors), winter exercise tights at 50% off and a sweater dress for $10 (not sure of retail, but it is my new winter live-in item, so $10 was a bargain!).
- This place is so big you need several hours to look through everything
- They now offer online shopping, which was born out of necessity caused by the pandemic, and opens the lost treasures to everyone – though note larger items are not available online
- They have an onsite café to keep you fueled up for shopping
- They have specials, deals, and events all the time. Follow them on Facebook or sign up to their newsletter to stay informed, so you can grab an ultra-bargain and perhaps some free food.