Treasure Hunting at the Unclaimed Baggage Center

One man’s stash is another man’s treasure (Source: iStock/Audy_indy)

509 W Willow Street, Scottsboro, AL  35768


Have you ever wondered what happens to the unclaimed or luggage that’s orphaned at the airport? A tiny percentage of those bags will end up for sale at the Unclaimed Baggage Center (UBC) in Scottsboro, Alabama. And as you might suspect, the contents of this unclaimed luggage is decidedly … interesting.

It’s this “interesting” inventory that makes UBC one of the quirkiest retailers in the country — and one of the most fun. Where else can you find a suit of armor (19th century replica), a 41-carat natural emerald, an engraved headstone, or even a shrunken head? With over 7,000 new items hitting the store daily, you’ll never know what you’ll find.

While most checked baggage that is “lost” is eventually claimed, about .0010% goes through a three-month tracing process to reunite it with its owners. If anything remains after that (and about half the items remain), they are sold (legally) by the airlines to Bryan Owens from the Unclaimed Baggage Center.

Initially established in 1970, Unclaimed Baggage was formed when Doyle Owens purchased his first load of unclaimed luggage in Washington D.C. for $300. Doyle knew he had a winning idea when lost items put up for sale on rickety card tables in his modest rental sold out quickly. Doyle’s wife, Sue, and their two boys jumped in to help, and soon, Unclaimed Baggage was taking flight.

These days, inventory is comprised of luggage and cargo from buses, trains, and trucks, along with goodies from commercial aviation. Not everything purchased is sold; UBC employees sort through it all and decide what makes it to the retail floor, what gets repurposed, and what gets discarded. (Oh, and about half of incoming inventory is donated to charitable causes.)

You can also participate in the sorting process yourself. Every so often, UBC runs a “Baggage Experience” for customers. Simply throw your name in a hat and wait for a random drawing. If your name is picked, you can assist a UBC worker as they open a newly arrived bag — and keep whatever’s inside. If you’d rather watch, grab your favorite Starbucks brew from the in-store Cups Café and prepare to be amazed. Lucky winners have let with iPads, jewelry, signed footballs, and backpacking gear.

What’s even more amazing about UBC is its combined size and volume. It’s a single retail outlet covers more than a city block and hosts over a million visitors annually. Typical merch includes clothes, cameras, jewelry, electronics, and golf clubs. More exotic items might include an African mask or surfboard.

You’ll be glad to know that all apparel is professionally cleaned at UBC’s own dry cleaning and laundry facilities. Over 20,000 pieces are cleaned every day – more than most professional dry cleaners handle in a year. Electronics are tested, and all personal data is erased before items are sold.

For an unconventional and enjoyable stop-and-shop, the Unclaimed Baggage Company may be just the ticket. For more information, including a floor map to help you find your next treasure, visit the Unclaimed Baggage Company website. Happy hunting!