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The Unclaimed Baggage Centre: Alabama’s Best Kept Secret Thrift Store

Could the lady sitting next to you on the bus really be wearing your custom-made Christmas sweater? But, that would be next to impossible; didn’t you lose your mom-made sweater on your way back from your parents’ home? In fact, you lost your entire suitcase, as it never turned up on the baggage carousel after you landed.  Well, if you didn’t end up getting your luggage and it’s contents back, there’s a high probability that all your stuff ended up being put on display and sold to someone at the Unclaimed Baggage Center situated in Scottsboro, Alabama.

This 40,000 sq. ft. mega store is 50% thrift store and 50% lost & found. If you venture out 45 minutes from Huntsville and head east, you find this place that was actually started in 1970. The story goes that Doyle Owens, a part-time insurance agent, had the idea of selling lost luggage and unclaimed bags he found at the nearby bus stations. From selling lost items from a table, few times a week, Doyle went to selling airline baggage on a huge scale. Almost 48 years later, the store stocks and sells millions of unclaimed and lost items which come from almost all lost suitcases in USA.

How do these bags end up here

First off, we would like to clarify that the airline you travelled with, most certainly did not steal your luggage in a bid to sell it at wholesale rates. Only 0.5% of all luggage handled are lost before they reach baggage claim, and 80%-90% of these bags are returned to their rightful owners in the preceding 48 hours. After a week, more bags are reunited with their hassled owners. This goes on for 90 days, as the airlines tries to match every bag with its owner. Statistically, you have a 1-in-1000 chance of losing your luggage when you travel within the US, so you can rest easy.

Post the 90 day period, the baggage is the legal property of the airlines. The reasons why some bags don’t get claimed are because sometimes, customers are paid a fair compensation for their baggage and it’s contents, so they stop actively searching. Other times, their description of the luggage does not match with what was found. In some cases, people overstate the value of the luggage’s contents to get a big insurance pay out and if they receive a call form the airline’s fraud department, they simply keep mum. So for these and many more reasons, a lot of unclaimed luggage lands up being stored in various warehouses.

What happens next?

The Unclaimed Baggage Center, as it has an agreement with airline companies, picks up those unclaimed bags. It also grabs hold of unclaimed cargo, if any, as the goods are unused and hence, have better resale value. There is a literal ton of electronic goods left behind by forgetful passengers who just forget to take their carry-on baggage from the overhead bins or from under their seats. Because these airlines do not take any responsibility for your carry-on luggage, these bags have come to be the biggest source of the center’s electronic goods. The said airlines do not make hoards of cash, selling off these poor orphaned luggage cases. The money they get is just about enough to balance out the expenses they incur when maintaining the lost baggage operations (it costs good money to reunite you with your lost suitcase!).

What can you find in the store?

Once UBS has obtained it’s haul, it’s workers sift through the many pieces of clothing, suitcases, electronics, jewelry etc. to find things which are sellable. What is not sellable is recycled or is sent away to charities. Only one-third of all the items are put out to be purchased by deal-seekers. On any given say, the store stocks around 7,000 items, daily. Far from any thrift shop, this store has those things on sale which people wanted, not trash that they wanted disposed off. These are things people were carrying for a holiday or as presents for loved ones. They even have wedding gowns you could choose from, and while all of them aren’t Vera Wang, they see many of her designs in the store, too.

For electronics such as laptops, tabs, smartphones etc. the store employees follow the Department of Defense protocol to erase off all the memory of each of these items. So, all your embarrassing photos, purchases, history and bank records are scrubbed away before selling it to some stranger.

Hidden treasures aplenty

Whatever you find at the UBC is at a 20% to 80% discount over the original retail price. You can even pick up your engagement ring here as all the jewelry is sold at half its original price, after inspection and appraisal. Not everything here is appraised though, as a lucky man from Mexico City found out. He bought a $60 painting while it’s actual worth was $20,000! This place also has a museum solely dedicated to the weird things the employees have found among unclaimed baggage. They found a 6-foot tall Tinker Bell statue made of papier-mâché, live rattlesnakes (!!!), a Victorian fan dating back to the 19thcentury and other odd things.

So the next time you find yourself at a loss of words over the loss of your bag, fret not, as you know where you need to go to find your things. You just might get lucky at the Unclaimed Baggage Center.

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