If you left your iPad on the seat pocket in front of you on a plane in Albuquerque, there is a chance it’s now for sale at a deep discount in Alabama.
The Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro is where lost luggage and items more often than not end up after attempts fail to reunite them with their original owners.
“People always come in and go, ‘Why is there one in Scottsboro?’ and ‘Why isn’t there one where I live?’” said Brenda Cantrell, brand ambassador for the Unclaimed Baggage Center. “Well, of course, this is where the business started and who knew then it would become what it is now? And we’re still proud to call Scottsboro home. But there is only so much unclaimed baggage. The airlines reunited over 99.9 percent of that checked baggage.”
Doyle Owens started the business in 1970 when he borrowed a pickup truck and $300 to go to Washington, D.C., and purchase unclaimed bags from the bus industry.
He began selling the items on top of card tables from his home before the popularity forced him to open a stand-alone store. Deals cultivated with airlines, bus lines and train carriers for unclaimed baggage and cargo provided enough inventory to see the business grow and the store expand to the more than 40,000 square feet and one city block it occupies today.
Doyle Owens’ son, Bryan, purchased the business in 1995 and, unlike his father, was keen on getting national media attention for the one-of-a-kind retail outlet.
Here is a story Bloomberg did on the Unclaimed Baggage Center in 2014, interviewing visitors from California and Michigan on that day.
Cantrell said that’s not unusual.
“We are definitely a national tourist destination – international for that matter,” she said. “Every year we have all 50 states represented. We have 40 or 50 foreign countries easily every year.”
More than 1 million shoppers visit the store each year.
Bags and cargo – all of it sight unseen – are delivered to the store by the tractor-trailer load. The bags and boxes go through a sorting process that sees about one-third of the items thrown away or recycled, about one-third donated to charity and the remaining one-third gets cleaned and makes it onto the sales floor.
The store itself reflects what you would find in a typical suitcase. Clothes, shoes and jewelry dominate the store’s floor space. There is a sizable electronics section, a large selection of books, plenty of prescription eyeglasses, reading glasses and sunglasses and a large amount of sporting goods.
Then there are items you wouldn’t expect to find.
“Over the years, we have seen our fair share of odd things,” Cantrell said.
Topping the list was the live rattlesnake that was in one bag. The store’s staff ended up releasing it in the cemetery behind the store.
Unclaimed Baggage has also seen suits of armor, a mummified falcon, designer clothing, packed parachutes, paddleboards, autographed sports memorabilia and high-end jewelry, including a $64,000 men’s Rolex watch.
Cantrell said the store gets repeat visitors because there are thousands of new items on the sales floor every week.
The store is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“We’re very much about the guest experience when they come here,” Cantrell said. “We’re not just another store running a discount. We always try to create an experience – a memorable one – that will keep them coming back.”