Shop Till You Drop: The Unclaimed Baggage Center – Scottsboro, Alabama, USA

Shop Till You Drop: The Unclaimed Baggage Center

Scottsboro, Alabama

I’m a bargain shopper.

Ask any of my friends – if there’s a market, a craft center or even a sale in the oh-so-less-exotic mall, I’m there. I think the whole ‘get a deal’ affliction must be a thing in my genes, passed down through my mother’s side. You put my mother in a store with only $500 items, and she’ll find the one, amazingly cute thing that’s 90% off.

On the road, one of my favorite things to do is track down the best deals on the most unique gifts I can find. However, I’ve never gone out of my way to shop in America. All that has been changed by one trip to the bargain-hunting Mecca known as the Unclaimed Baggage Center.

Located in Scottsboro (read: small town) Alabama, about an hour outside of Huntsville, the Unclaimed Baggage Center is home to the abandoned, lost and misplaced misfits of the airline, train and bus transportation systems.

Although 99% of lost bags are eventually reunited with their owners, there are a ‘select few’ whose owners cannot be located within 90 days. After all tracking options have been exhausted, the bags are then sold through exclusive contracts to the Unclaimed Baggage Center.

Showing off the Purchases
Showing off the Purchases
A portion of the 130 employees of the Unclaimed Baggage Center then empty out the contents of the luggage. Since their founding in 1970, they have recovered a 40.95-carat emerald, a full suit of armor, a live rattle snake and more. An in-store museum showcases some of the more unusual finds.

On a day-to-day basis, one-third of the luggage contents are thrown away – these include ‘unsanitary objects’, broken gifts, shirts with profane statements or ones that promote items deemed offensive to the Christian company. Another third of the items are donated, including so many eyeglasses that the company’s gifts make up 1% of the glasses collected annually by the International Lion’s Clubs. Finally, the remaining pieces are then cleaned or laundered – an average of 40,000 articles are dry cleaned a day. Pricers knowledgeable about the cost of various articles then mark the item 20%-80% below the suggested retail price and the object is put out on the sales floor, appropriately sized and categorized, where applicable.

Each day, approximately 7,000 items – everything from perfumes to apparel to tents to books to knick-knacks – are added to the store. According to Brenda Cantrell, who helps promote the store, there are customers who sometimes visit multiple times each day, just to check out the latest and greatest in new stock. Occasionally, customers do recover items they had previously owned, and, equally as rare, an item will reappear in the store with ‘Unclaimed Baggage’ tags still attached.

As for myself, I tracked down a large kid’s-sized but adult-fitting Lacoste polo for $4, a fantastic black formal dress for $25 and a comfy pair of khakis for a mere $6. My mother would be proud.

Avoid Losing Your Luggage

Visitor Locations
Visitor Locations
To prevent your treasures from ending up at Unclaimed Baggage, they suggest keeping your bag-tags up to date, checking all zippers before departure, and putting a copy of your name and contact information inside the bag. And, just in case your luggage does fall victim to the baggage black hole, make sure you have adequate proof of what was in the bag. Brenda writes down each item in her suitcase and photographs the contents once it is packed. Customers are entitled up to $2,500 per person (not bag) in reimbursement, but this excludes many high-ticket items like jewellery, electronics and accessories. Make sure to carry-on your precious parcels.

If you go:
There are never sales at Unclaimed Baggage, however, they do put on a limited number of ‘events’. The first Saturday in November is the largest event, a winter ski promotion. It features heavy jackets, boots and other (duh) ski items. People camp out in advance – prepare to arrive early and fight your way through the crowd to grab those awesome bindings.

Items are marked down on an individual-basis, depending on how long it has been in the store. Look for a 25%, 50% or more stamp on the object’s tag – but don’t expect to find extra low-priced deals very often.