Ever wondered what happens to lost airline baggage? It ends up in Scottsboro in Alabama, the United States at the Unclaimed Baggage Center. The store's concept of reselling of lost or unclaimed airline luggage has received national attention over the years, including mentions on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Late Night with David Letterman and the Today show.
At Unclaimed Baggage Center you can buy a lost $1000 Versace dress for $55, an Adidas jacket for $15, a tube of slightly used Japanese toothpaste for 50 cents, a $15,000 sapphire and diamond bracelet for $7500, gold wedding bands and pearl necklaces for half their value. Over a million customers visit the 50,000-square-foot store each year to browse through some of the 7,000 items added each day.
It all started in 1970, when an insurance salesman named H. Doyle Owens borrowed $300 and a pickup truck and bought a hundred or so bags left on Greyhound buses. He brought them back to Scottsboro, a town with a population of about 15,000, expecting to sell them off within a couple of weeks. He was surprised to find all the items were gone in just one day. For Owens it was just a part-time business until 1978. Now the Unclaimed Baggage Center covers an entire city block- 50,000 square feet and employs 110 workers.
Sixty percent of the items sold are clothing. All clothing is cleaned and pressed in one of the largest laundry facilities in the state. Racks and racks of clothes cover the main floor of the store. There are shelves of books, racks of CDs, baskets of Walkman's and inexpensive cameras, and a jewelry counter. Sporting goods line the wall on one end of the store. Unclaimed cargo fills a room on the other side.
"It’s like Christmas everyday," says Bryan Owens, Doyle Owens’ son who took over the operation in 1995. "People come again and again," said Owens, 43. "You can find a lot of practical merchandise here. But I think people really enjoy going through all the stuff and seeing what new treasures they can find. We have so many new items each day that people never know what they are going to discover."
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