A bride-to-be slides out of the passenger side of her mama’s car, right next to the businessman who needs gear for his hike on the Appalachian Trail. Across the parking lot, a burst of laughter erupts from a mini-van of women stretching their legs and hedging their bets on the best bargain of the day.
It's another day at Unclaimed Baggage Center.
Doyle Owens filled a pick-up truck with his first purchase of unclaimed baggage from a Washington D.C. bus line in 1970. Little did he know that this business would one day span a city block and attract people as diverse as the items in the store.
Starting from that first load of unclaimed luggage, the company, run by Doyle, his wife Sue, and their two boys, grew into a thriving business over the next forty years.
Relationships with airline and other transportation companies across the country were forged. Regional magazines and newspapers began featuring the ‘land of lost luggage’.
Twenty-five years after displaying his first batch of unclaimed inventory on card tables in a rented home, Doyle passed the baton. His oldest son, Bryan, purchased the business in 1995 and Unclaimed Baggage Center experienced another surge of growth.
The store was remodeled, expanded and organized to display the inventory. With the addition of unclaimed cargo, UBC soared to new heights.
Exposure on national TV networks gave Unclaimed Baggage Center access to adventurous shoppers nationwide who flocked to Scottsboro.
Catering to the curious as well as a loyal following of treasure hunters, this one-of-a-kind store has become a must-see attraction in Alabama. Click on the “Timeline” below for specific glimpses into how Unclaimed Baggage Center has evolved into far more than a store.
Then pack your own bag and make your way to the corner of Unclaimed Baggage Boulevard and Lost Luggage Lane in Scottsboro, Alabama.
It's in the bag
With a borrowed pick up truck and a $300 loan, second-generation entrepreneur Doyle Owens, heads out to Washington, DC to purchase his first load of unclaimed baggage from Trailways bus lines. Selling the contents on card tables in an old rented house, it doesn’t take long for Doyle to realize his idea is a winner. Within a month he leaves his insurance job to become the "bag man" full-time.
The sky is the limit
Open for business Wednesdays and Saturdays, the store quickly sells out of items on hand each day. During off days, Doyle, his wife Sue, and their two young sons are busy sorting luggage contents preparing for the next customer onslaught. Doyle’s entrepreneurial spirit takes flight as he lands his first airline contract with Eastern Airlines. More unusual and exotic items from around the world start to find their way to the one-of-a-kind Unclaimed Baggage Center.
Now we're talking
The Huntsville media takes notice of Unclaimed Baggage Center with a feature article in The Times which is then followed by numerous local television and print news stories. After several moves, the business finds a permanent home and settles into its current location on Willow Street.
Travel back in time
Employees unpacking an old Gucci suitcase discover Egyptian artifacts dating back to 1500 BC. Most items, which include burial masks, scarabs, a mummified hawk, a stool leg, and a headrest, are sold through Christie's auction house in New York.
Like father, like sons
Bryan Owens, Doyle and Sue’s oldest son, graduates from college and joins the company, spending the next few years establishing relationships with other airline carriers. Cementing its unique reputation as “the land of lost luggage,” Unclaimed Baggage Center is recognized as the one and only place where airline lost luggage goes and the treasure hunt begins. Four years later, younger brother Mark joins the company as a new university grad, making it a family affair.
Selling like snowbody's business
With a sizable inventory of winter ski equipment on hand, the store launches its first "Ski Sale" and draws customers from all over the Deep South. The sale was so successful that it has become an annual event attended by winter sports enthusiasts from all parts of the country. Visit on the first Saturday of November, and you'll find customers camping out in the parking lot hoping to be the first ones through the door.
Following in the family footsteps
Doyle's son Bryan and his wife Sharon purchase the business and begin a remodel project that expands the Unclaimed Baggage Center to cover more than a city block A museum and Starbucks coffee shop (the second one in Alabama!) are added as the store becomes a shopping and tourist destination. O! Oprah knows a good thing when she sees it and features Unclaimed Baggage Center as one of America's “best-kept shopping secrets”. A secret no longer, this triggers the first of many big national news stories.
Live from Scottsboro...
It's Good Morning America! The show broadcasts live from Unclaimed Baggage Center on July 4th weekend and features a 5.8 carat diamond solitaire ring that was discovered in lost baggage. From the ordinary to the truly amazing, the variety of items available at Unclaimed Baggage Center continue to fascinate avid shoppers and bargain hunters alike.
A year of firsts
The new website “www.unclaimedbaggage.com” launches. Unclaimed Cargo--made up of lost and unclaimed shipments of personal goods on the way to retailers--are added to the mix. The Late Show with David Letterman pays its first visit to the store proving that lost luggage can be funny!
Behind the scenes
With the store experiencing continued phenomenal growth and an ever-expanding array of products being offered, further expansion is necessary. A new processing facility opens, including the state’s largest known commercial laundry, where over 20,000 items are sorted, cleaned, priced and prepared to sell each day.
Talk of the town...and the nation
The Travel Channel features Unclaimed Baggage Center as one of a select few Extreme Superstores. Alabama Governor Bob Riley presents an official Commendation to Unclaimed Baggage Center in recognition of its dedicated service to employees, customers, community and the state. The year ends on a high note when the Late Show with David Letterman returns to do another comedic story.
Worth the trip
The Alabama State Tourism Director along with Alabama’s governor honor Unclaimed Baggage Center with the Director's Award-- the highest tourism award in the state. Thanks to the 1 million visitors per year from every U.S. state and over 40 foreign countries that made it possible!
40 years of lost treasures
It’s the 40th Anniversary! The entire store receives a make-over for the occasion. The Owens family attributes the success of the business to God's providence and blessings and to their team of dedicated employees. Anniversary celebrations highlight customer treasures discovered over four decades—including a Versace run-way gown, a collection of African masks, a shrunken head, a full suit of armor and much, much more—proving the shopping adventure at Unclaimed Baggage is like Christmas everyday!
A whopping 99.5% of domestic airlines’ checked bags are picked up by their owners at the baggage carousel. Roughly ½ of 1% don’t arrive with the passengers. Five days later, an impressive 95% of those delayed bags find their way home. That’s a great track record considering the 100’s of millions of flights and passengers that criss-cross the country and the globe every day.
An intense 3-month search process reunites over half of the remaining bags with the happy passengers. Claims are paid to the astonishingly small fraction of a percent of owners whose bags are never found.
Only after these exhaustive attempts to reunite the luggage with the owners do the airlines call in the crew from Unclaimed Baggage Center.
Unclaimed Baggage Center is under contract with airlines and other transportation companies to purchase the luggage that can’t be traced to the owners. Truckloads of lost luggage are transported to Scottsboro, Alabama, sight unseen.
After its long journey, the unclaimed luggage arrives dirty, in great disarray, and often damaged. Our experienced staff carefully unpacks each bag, wearing protective gloves.
The items go through a complex sorting process. The clothes headed for the store go to our own dry cleaner and laundry facility – the largest commercial dry cleaner in the state of Alabama. Fine jewelry is cleaned and appraised. Meanwhile our technicians test all electronic equipment, erasing any personal data.
Finally our experts, many with 10, 15 or even 25 years of pricing experience, research and price each individual item.
By the time merchandise is wheeled onto the sales floor, the clothes and products are in new or nearly-new condition, ready to be snapped up by savvy shoppers.
Some of the bought-in-bulk load not going to the retail floor is “voted off the island.” These items should never have been packed into suitcases in the first place. We’ve learned over the years that some people will pack anything that fits in a bag – alive, dead, stinky or illegal. (Did we mention the live rattlesnake?)
Over half of these leftover items, however, are “reclaimed for good.” Our numerous charity partners repurpose merchandise to meet needs all over the world.
In short, we sell, donate, recycle and repurpose everything we can. Bags and boxes that arrive at UBC filled with a wide variety of items have a second shot at being worn, played, read, or shared.
Imagine, clothing and products that arrived from around the world at UBC go out once again, often to distant corners of the globe.