Looking for a Salvador Dali print? A rare musical instrument? Clothing from Paris? The latest best seller at a bargain-basement price? You can find all this and more at Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, and then relax with a delicious cup of Starbucks’ coffee and bask in your good fortune.
Unclaimed Baggage Center, also known as the “lost luggage capital of the world,” is located at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in scenic Scottsboro in northeast Alabama, also home to the popular “First Monday Trade Days.” But UBC offers much more than flea market finds: it is a unique store full of lost treasures from lost airline baggage from all over the world.
And while not every item in the store is a “rare” treasure, many people enjoy the treasure hunting shopping experience, according to Bryan Owens, president of The Owens Group, owner of UBC. High-quality clothing, jewelry, cameras, electronics, sporting goods, jewelry, designer optical, books and luggage and more are available daily at UCB for 50 to 80 percent off what you’d expect to pay retail for the items, Owens says. If you love the thrill of the hunt and the pleasure of getting a “real deal,” UBC is definitely your kind of shopping adventure.
“I think some people just enjoy the mystique of a company in a small town in Appalachia near the 70,000-acre Lake Guntersville,”Owens says, pointing out some of the local treasures, as well. “We’re selling lost treasures from all over the world – in Scottsboro.”
“There’s also the intrigue of buying something lost by someone else,”Owens adds. “We have a long-term exclusive relationship with almost every airline…and we’re a multi-national corporation within ‘small-town Alabama.’”
But if you’re thinking UBC might have some item you lost on a recent flight, you are out of luck. UBC cannot help with lost items. By the time luggage reaches UBC, it usually has no form of identification on it and the airlines have been through every effort to reach the rightful owners, including the use of itineraries, personal documents or anything found inside or outside the bags. UBC usually doesn’t receive an unclaimed bag for three or four months.
“It is in the interest of the airline to find the rightful owner, rather than sell to us,” Owens explains, “because of the [insurance] claim they must pay if they don’t find the owner. There’s definitely an incentive to find the rightful owner.”
Of the two billion bags checked every year, Owens points out, about five of every 1,000 are mishandled, and about .002 percent goes unclaimed. Traditionally, airlines were left “holding the bag,” Owens adds, but now they have a way to dispose of the unclaimed merchandise, and UBC can pass along savings to the customer. In addition, a large portion of unclaimed items is donated to charity, as well, he says.
Owens’ father, Doyle Owens, began UBC as a part-time business when he noticed lost bags and items from bus lines being sold in a small, rural town, Bryan Owens recalls. Once his unique idea and business took hold, Owens left his full-time job to expand his business throughout the airline industry. Though Doyle Owens is retired now, his son continues in the unclaimed baggage business as President and Chief Executive Officer of their company.
Called “One of the country’s best kept shopping secrets,” by Oprah Winfrey, UBC is constantly being featured in national and international magazines, newspapers, television shows and even on late-night shows such as David Letterman. Shoppers come from all over the 50 United States, as well as 40-50 different countries to shop at UBC, and a map in the front of the store records some of the exotic locations from which its clientele comes.
Over one million items pass through the store annually, and new merchandise is available daily, Owens says. All items are clean and fresh, and UBC operates the busiest laundry and dry cleaning plant in the area to ensure shoppers find clean, pressed clothing and well-organized, well-marked racks – what you’d expect to find in any fine store, Owens says.
The store itself, some 50,000 square feet of “white elephant” paradise, takes up an entire city block. While UBC started out small in the 1970s, expansions have enabled UBC to feature its items in attractive displays throughout the store, as well as offer Cups Espresso Café, one of the few if only places nearby to get Starbucks coffee, muffins, desserts and deli sandwiches for a break while you shop.
If you can imagine what a CEO of a major company might take on a visit to the Far East or a vacationing family might bring home from Hawaii, you can imagine just some of the many items available for purchase at UBC. In addition to the unique, exotic and eclectic, some of the popular Sales run yearly by UBC include a Ski Sale, Art and Collectibles Sale and Jewelry Sale. However, it is the promise of the deal and the unusual items that keep people coming in daily.
“We’ve definitely opened up some unique items over the years,” Owens says. Each piece of airline luggage is described as a “literal grab bag” whose contents could be anything. UBC has, in fact, opened up some signed and numbered Salvador Dali prints. The staff has also received a full case of Egyptian artifacts, a 200-year-old violin and even two Lotus Élan racing bikes.
On a few rare occasions, UBC has managed to return some items to their original owners, such as a western, jewel-studded belt buckle belonging to country singer Lynn Anderson and a partially completed needlepoint project belonging to Mrs. Bing Crosby.
All this and UBC’s unusual array of clientele, from the curious one-timers to the regulars to those who have traveled across the country to visit this unique shopped marked by the tilted suitcase sign, truly make a visit to UBC more than a shopping experience. It’s sheer entertainment.
IF YOU GO….
Unclaimed Baggage Center
509 West Willow Street
Scottsboro, Alabama 35768