Part lost-and-found, part thrift store, the Unclaimed Baggage Center is a 40,000 square feet superstore located 45 minutes east of Huntsville, in Scottsboro, Alabama. The store takes literally every lost suitcase in America, sifts through it, and puts the best stuff on its shelves.
The Unclaimed Baggage Center has been around since 1970, when Doyle Owens got the idea to purchase an enormous stack of unclaimed luggage a bus company in Washington, DC was looking to get rid of, then sell the contents from tables a couple of days a week. Eventually, he broadened this practice to airlines, and five decades later the store is stocking millions of items that Americans have lost on flights. Since taking over the business in 1995, Owens’ son has expanded the store into a 50k-square-foot behemoth. As of today, the Unclaimed Baggage Center stocks about 7,000 items a day on average. The store’s dedicated laundry facility, which cleans 70,000 clothing items per month, is the largest in Alabama.
The Unclaimed Baggage Center differs from a thrift store in that its shelves are full of things people wanted, not junk they threw away, and for one reason or another never made it home. You might, therefore, find a wedding dress at a thrift store, but you wouldn’t find a Vera Wang wedding dress. And the Unclaimed Baggage Center has several of those. About one-third of the items in baggage end up for sale — usually marked down anywhere from 20-80% off list price.
What you can find at the Unclaimed Baggage Center is only limited by what people put in their suitcases, all of it at 20-80% off retail. Jewelry sells at half its appraised value; the most valuable item in the Unclaimed Baggage Center currently is a $42,000 bracelet priced to move at $21,000. Other truly valuable finds included a presidential platinum Rolex watch worth $64k (sold for $32k), a 5.8-carat diamond ring appraised for $46k (sold for $23k), and a 40.95-carat emerald appraised for $25k (sold for $17k).
But not everything brought to the Unclaimed Baggage Center is appraised, especially the artwork. The sheer volume of baggage the Unclaimed Baggage Center receives also yields finds that are extremely strange, rare, and unusual. Like for instance a rare violin made by a student of Stradivarius, a Gucci suitcase full of ancient Egyptian artifacts from 1500 BC, an F-16 guidance system belonging to the US Navy, a $60 painting that turned out to be worth $20,000, or a Nikon F camera from NASA’s Space Shuttle program.
In addition to valuables, employees (who can’t buy anything until it’s been on the shelf a week) have found some insane items. The store has a dedicated museum to the wacky things they’ve discovered, from a 19th-century Victorian fan, to a Jim Henson 4-foot-tall Hoggle puppet used in the David Bowie 1986 film Labyrinth.
The Unclaimed Baggage Center has become a tourist attraction over the years. It sits only about 30 minutes from the Georgia and Tennessee state lines, and shoppers have been known to stay overnight so they can fit in two days of shopping. Last year, more than 1 million customers from all over the world flocked to the small town 140 miles northwest of Atlanta to see what kinds of treasures they could forage. So if you’re still kicking yourself for losing that irreplaceable bachelor weekend memorabilia, don’t give up until you’ve made a trip to Scottsboro.
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