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Guitars, Rings and Cameras: Welcome to the Land of Lost Luggage

by Janet Shamlian /

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Tucked away in rural northeastern Alabama, miles from any major airport, is the last stop for the nation’s lost luggage.

If you’ve ever lost a suitcase on an airplane or left a cell phone in a seat-back pocket, chances are it could be here. Or, was here.

Unclaimed Baggage Center
Janet Shamlian

The Unclaimed Baggage Center in tiny Scottsboro, Alabama, buys left-behind bags from major airlines as well as bus and train companies and then sells what’s inside them at a deep discount.

"We actually buy unclaimed baggage from planes, trains and automobiles, sight unseen," said Brenda Cantrell, brand ambassador for the Unclaimed Baggage Center. "We have no idea what's in the bags when we purchase them."

Visitors are drawn here from down the street — and all over the world.

Shopper Jerry Brown is a regular and has been visiting the store since 1972.

"There's a crew of us that's kind of like the Breakfast Club that meets down here every morning," Brown said. "We just enjoy doing this, it's fun."

One walk through the aisles of the 40,000-square-foot store and you’ll feel like you’re in a well-stocked department store. The place features top brands, many items are new with the store tags still attached, and the electronics department could give an Apple store a run for its money. Last year, the Unclaimed Baggage Center sold 3400 iPads. They also cell iPhones, headphones, cameras, laptops and everything that goes with them: cases , covers, tripods and chargers. The center says it puts out more than 5,000 items a day, with discounts run from 20 to 80-percent less than you would pay for the item now.

Unclaimed Baggage Center

So how good are the deals? Shopper Jeanne Hupfer walked away with an iPad for $164.

"It's a good deal," Hupfer said. "We're tickled."

So why aren’t these items returned to the owner? The UCB says it has exclusive contracts (with carriers it won’t name) to buy the items after the airlines and other companies have settled claims with customers. The items couldn’t be returned because they had no identification. Airlines say only ½ of 1 percent of checked bags are lost, and of those, 98 percent are eventually returned.

But with millions of people traveling every day, those bags that aren’t reunited with their owner contain enough merchandise to fill a warehouse. If there’s a take-away here, it’s label everything!

It’s not just clothes and cameras, from a fiberglass cast of a shark to a suit of armor, it’s surprising what gets lost in transit. The most unusual items are on display in the Unclaimed Baggage Center.

Some suspect these bridesmaids dresses were left behind intentionally!
Some suspect these bridesmaids dresses were left behind intentionally!Janet Shamlian

"This is absolutely an insight to people's traveling habits, people's packing habits, even their technology habits," Cantrell said. "You come across these gems where you have something amazing from a foreign country or an exquisite piece of jewelry, it's amazing."

Whether you're coming to shop or just to browse, one thing is for sure — you never know what you'll find in the land of lost luggage.

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