The Land of Lost LuggageFebruary 13, 2011 - 10:44 AM | by: Elizabeth Prann
If you lost your luggage on a flight in the past 40 years it likely ended up in Scottsboro, Alabama. The small town in the northern part of the state is home to Unclaimed Baggage – a 40,000 square foot store that can only be described as a bargain hunter’s paradise.
“The airlines, by law have to spend up to 90 days trying to reunite bags with their owners and over 99.9% of the time, they are successful,” said Brenda Cantrell, the director of marketing for Unclaimed Baggage. “But it’s that very small percentage that ends up completely lost or unclaimed and we actually pay for these bags sight unseen.”
Unclaimed Baggage has exclusive contracts with each airline to buy orphaned bags that, despite the best detective work, are never reunited with their owners. The suitcases are purchased in bulk, sight unseen and shipped into Scottsboro where they are opened up and inspected. What’s found can range from designer clothes to scuba gear – jewelry, cameras, coats and even iPads.
“We stock nearly 7,000 individual items to our retail floor every single day and it could be anything from a tribal vest to a $14,000 diamond ring,” she said.
Shopper Larry Owens has been driving from neighboring Georgia for years just to shop.
“I came across some bargains that if I had bought retail, would have been excessive,” Owens said.
But shoppers come from all 50 states. Mary Cooke-Hite stopped in on a trip through Alabama from Virginia.
“It’s very unique,” Cooke-Hite said. “ It’s like the ultimate consignment story, for me at least for me. You can find some amazing brands, like today I found a Burberry wallet for an amazing deal. You just can’t beat the prices, you never know what you’re going to find. It’s like a treasure hunt.”
The center brings in more than one million customers from around a world every year. Local tourism officials say Unclaimed Baggage and all those visitors has been a saving grace for this rural section of the South during a long, hard-hitting recession.
“They are a wonderful tourism partner for us,” said John Parsons, the VP of Destination Marketing for Jackson County. “It’s unclaimed baggage that really attracts the people and we get even international visitors that come in. We kept strong in North Alabama simply because of Unclaimed Baggage.”