There’s a store in Scottsboro, Alabama that takes up most of a strip mall and it’s where lost luggage goes to die. Well, not really die…it’s more like it’s reborn, because it gets sold in a thrift store atmosphere that’s been running for almost 50 years. The store is called Unclaimed Baggage Center and it’s one of Alabama’s top tourist attractions.
Although over 99.5% of domestic airline’s checked bags are picked up at the baggage carousel, lost luggage is an unfortunate part of airline travel. The airlines conduct an extensive three-month tracing process with the remaining 0.5% of unclaimed bags in an effort to reunite them with their owners, resulting in an astonishingly small fraction of a percent of bags that are ultimately orphaned. Claims are paid on these remaining lost bags and only then do the airlines sell the remaining unclaimed baggage property to Unclaimed Baggage Center. These purchasing agreements provide an important service to the airlines by giving a second life to unclaimed items.
The store sells a little bit of everything – pretty much anything that’s packed in a suitcase or left on a plane. So they sell a wide variety of items commonly taken on business trips and vacations such as clothing, cameras, jewelry, electronics and golf clubs. They also sell unclaimed cargo, items lost in shipment and special buys that are usually new merchandise, like multiples of clothing, books and household items.
When bags come in, the contents are sorted to determine if they will be sold immediately, cleaned first, donated or thrown out. They sell both new and used items. All clothing that’s intended to be sold is professionally cleaned (Unclaimed Baggage Center has the largest known commercial dry cleaning and laundry facility in Alabama and they wash or dry clean over 20,000 items per day, which is more than most professional dry cleaners handle in a year) and electronic equipment is thoroughly tested and all personal data is erased before it’s sold. Items not sold to the public are either repurposed or discarded.
Through relationships with multiple charity organizations locally, nationally and around the globe, Unclaimed Baggage is able to reclaim more than half of these leftover items for good. Millions of dollars of clothing, eyeglasses, medical supplies and other useful items are refurbished and donated to those in need each year through our Reclaimed For Good program.
They want their customers to have a good time, so they have personal shoppers, seasonal sales and discounts, a Guest Services a department to help you decide what else you’d like to do around town, an in-store café, shipping options, clearance sales, and even pet services so Fido can have some fun while you’re shopping.
Besides the everyday items like clothing (sometimes with the tags still on), electronics, cameras and souvenirs from wherever the former owner had visited, Unclaimed Baggage Center has also found a variety of more unusual items:
- 50 vacuum-packed frogs
- A full suit of arbor (19th century replica)
- A 5.8-carat diamond set in a platinum band (and packed in a sock)
- A camera from a space shuttle (they gave it back to NASA)
- A missile guidance system for a fighter jet, with a plaque reading “Handle with extreme caution. I am worth my weight in gold.” (promptly returned to the Air Force)
- Money hidden and even sewn into clothing
- A shrunken head
Unclaimed Baggage Center has been in business since 1970 and is now being run by the second generation of the same family. It’s host to millions of visitors per year and even won the Alabama Retailer of the Year Gold Award in 2016. So if you’re ever in the area, check it out – you might find something good!
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