Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro attracts customers from around the world
By Lori Quiller
“You found WHAT?” is not an uncommon phrase to hear if you’re walking around the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro. In fact, you’ll probably hear it over and over again as you meander through the 40,000-square-foot facility, browsing from menswear to jewelry to shoes to formalwear to electronics to ladies wear to sports equipment to you-name-it…because they probably have it.
Nestled in the heart of Jackson County, the Unclaimed Baggage Center isn’t your average department store. To most shoppers that travel worldwide to visit the store, however, that’s exactly what it appears to be – a high-end department store. But, when you check out the price tags of the goods sold inside, you know instantly that something is a little different about this store.
The idea for the store began when Doyle Owens borrowed $300, a pick-up truck and hit the road to Washington, DC, where he purchased his first batch of unclaimed bags from Trailways bus lines. He quickly sold the packages and their contents, and within a month, Owens was well on his way to a new business venture.
And, today a little business venture that began with a small loan and a borrowed truck has grown into a thriving business that’s the only facility like it in the country. With contracts to purchase lost luggage from all the major airlines, Unclaimed Baggage Center is not likely to run short of stock anytime soon.
But don’t feel sorry for the owners of those lost items. According to Brenda Cantrell, brand ambassador for Unclaimed Baggage Center, because the airlines are so meticulous in attempting to reunite passengers with their lost luggage, about one half of 1 percent of all luggage fails to make it to the assigned destinations. Then, about five days later, about 95 percent of that half percent find their way home. Another three months is spent trying to reunite passengers with their belongings before claims are paid. The rest of the luggage makes its way to Scottsboro.
‘We never know what’s inside those bags’
“By the time that luggage gets to us, you can’t imagine the state we find them. Damaged bags, always dirty, and we have to take great protection ourselves when unpacking them. We never know what’s inside those bags,” she laughed. That’s when the fun begins.
The center operates the largest dry cleaning facility in the state, which comes in handy considering more than 50,000 pieces are sorted and cleaned every month.
Many “found treasures,” as Cantrell and the staff at Unclaimed Baggage Center have discovered while picking through parcels, have included a stuffed armadillo, a ruby and diamond belt buckle valued at $10,000, an antique “flirting” fan, bronze plaques from ancient Nigeria, 50 vacuum-packed frogs, an 8 ft. remote-controlled airplane, and a 40 carat natural emerald. The list continues to grow as new shipments arrive, but the staff can’t say they’ve seen it all…yet.
“We’ve always said if these bags could talk what a story they could tell,” Cantrell said.
As much fun as the staff and shoppers have with the goods unearthed and set out for sale on the showroom floor, Cantrell makes sure that the store continues to be a community leader in Jackson County through the many service projects she and the staff participate in each year.
The success of the store has allowed the owners and staff to give back to their community by partnering with local organizations such as the Lions Club, Salvation Army, Tornado Disaster Relief, Joni & Friends, Habitat for Humanity, Operation Christmas Child and Couture for a Cure. But there’s one partnership with the Department of Human Resources that has a special place in Cantrell’s heart.
“Children moving to new foster homes have a difficult time,” Cantrell explained. “These children go from one home to another carrying their belongings with them in plastic bags because they really don’t have much else. It’s already a tragic situation, so we wanted to help make their situation a little better.”
Cantrell first participated in a Luv LuggageTM event with an after school program in Scottsboro and became enchanted with the idea of how easy it was to turn old luggage into gifts for children on the move.
“We looked at it as ‘art from the heart,’ and we fell in love with the concept. We take the luggage to art programs or other children’s after-school programs, along with supplies to paint the luggage. The goal is to try to make things a little better for someone else. The surprising part is how quickly the students take to the program. They really seem to understand what these foster children are going through and want to help make things just a little bit better for them. Of course we had to continue it as a community campaign!”
In the spirit of sharing the “Luv,” Cantrell posted a community started guide and email address for more information to the Unclaimed Baggage Center website at www.unclaimedbaggage.com.
“Everyone has an old suitcase lying around in a closet or under a bed somewhere,” Cantrell said. “Why not give it a new life? That’s a lot of what we do here every day.”
Unclaimed Baggage Center
509 West Willow Street
Scottsboro, Alabama 35768
Monday – Thursday 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. CT
Friday 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. CT
Saturday 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. CT