Years ago while I was doing an appearance on CNN, I mentioned the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. The host’s ears perked up, she hadn’t ever heard of it. After our TBEX conference in Huntsville, we took a few days to tour the beautiful countryside of Northern Alabama and we got a chance to shop at this famous store.
It began in 1970 when Doyle Owens borrowed $300 and headed to Washington DC to purchase his first load of unclaimed baggage from Trailways bus lines. But it soon became clear that airplanes would yield a far better crop of left-behind merchandise. These days, the bulk of the luggage that’s purchased site unseen comes from airlines, but some still comes from bus lines and trains.
Brenda Cantrell, The Brand Ambassador, told us that most bus luggage turns out to be trash, not treasures. Not that there’s anything wrong with bus passengers, it simply appears that they don’t leave as many valuables, jewelry and iPads in their lost luggage as other travelers do.
Brenda is an infectiously cheerful woman who always wears a smile and is absolutely crazy about this place. She began working there just after college, and today she helps direct their massive philanthropic efforts, where they donate goods to many local charities like Rotary Clubs which get hundreds of pairs of lost eyeglasses.
What’s In Store?
So what can you find at the Unclaimed Baggage Center? Sadly, one thing that we saw more than one of were wedding dresses. I hoped that the lost luggage was a flight home, and not to, the wedding.
Some items that are sent to the center are hard to believe that they would have ever fit into a suitcase–like a full-size suit of armor. The airlines don’t profit from selling these lost items since they spend considerable energy trying to reach the passengers who left them or whose bags were lost.
There are different rooms for the wide variety of lost items for sale….dominated by racks and racks of clothes, then in a separate area, the real prize–electronics.
I asked Brenda how business changed when airlines began charging fees for every piece of checked luggage. She said that it didn’t stop the flow, it just changed to items left in seat-back pockets and in overhead bins. I thought about that when I picked out a newer model iPad that I just had to have. It was priced at $139, and with a coupon, the price came down to $104. Sweet!
I moved on to the shoe section and picked out a totally impractical and ill-fitting pair of 1960s style men’s boots. Wore them, bought them, and later realized they don’t fit and would make my feet hurt if I wore them again. Oh well.
Tips for travelers: get good luggage tags, make sure your bag is in good shape so it won’t burst open, put your name on everything in the suitcase, and don’t pack expensive jewelry or cash in a checked bag.
If your travels ever take you to the city of Huntsville, (maybe you’re a rocket scientist too!), you should definitely make the trek to Scottsboro. Who knows what might be waiting for you?