Note: This is a repost of a story from 2009, and prices quoted are from that time period.
For years we have heard about the amazing bargains to be found at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. Founded in 1970 by Doyle and Sue Owens as a part time business, the store sells unclaimed airline baggage and unclaimed cargo from shipping companies. Every year over one million items pass through the store, from clothing to jewelry to antiques to one of a kind items that are hard to figure out. Being confirmed bargain hunters, we checked it out on a recent visit to Alabama.
The store is huge, 40,000 square feet covering a city block, and merchandise is displayed in departments – ladies, men’s and children’s clothing, electronics, jewelry, etc. The company has its own laundry facility, and all clothing is washed, pressed, and repaired, if necessary.
We spent a couple of hours looking over the items on display, and to be honest, we were really not all that impressed.
Basically, Unclaimed Baggage is just a big thrift store. If you’ve been to a Goodwill store, you’ll feel right at home. Over 60% of the merchandise is used clothing, everything from leather jackets to wedding dresses to blue jeans. The company says many are designer labels, but we didn’t see any ourselves.
There is also jewelry, electronics, baby strollers (who walks out of an airport with their baby in their arms and forgets the stroller?), books, and accessories. According to the Unclaimed Baggage Center website www.unclaimedbaggage.com the majority of items are from unclaimed airline baggage that was lost or left behind. The company’s website says that over one million items pass through the store annually, with some 7,000 items added to the inventory every day. It was interesting to see some of the items offered for sale, including lots of small electronics, a couple of bicycles, two surfboards, a few laptop computers, and even a snorkel mask with a prescription lens!
The store has some amenities that set it apart from your hometown Goodwill, including a Concierge Desk, an espresso café, and a snack shop, but that’s about all the difference we saw between the two.
A display area shows some of the oddities that have turned up over the years, including the Hoggle figure from the movie Labyrinth. Created in London by Jim Henson’s studio (of Muppets fame), the figure is the work of a collaboration of dozens of artists.
Other unique items on display include a violin made in Germany in 1770, and a sheet of sixteen uncut $1 bills from the Bureau of Printing and Engraving in Washington, D.C.
While such oddities do turn up occasionally, bargain hunters will be disappointed to learn that they don’t get to paw through unopened luggage in search of treasures. The company has employees who do that, and they price merchandise accordingly.
So how good are the deals at Unclaimed Baggage? Their website says items are priced at from 20-80% off the retail value. But that’s apparently the new retail price. Keep in mind that we’re talking used merchandise here, folks. We didn’t think they were all that great.
The summer before our visit, I paid $239 for a current-generation 80 gig iPod Classic. At Unclaimed Baggage, they were selling older generation 80 gig iPods for $180, but none I saw had the earbuds or battery charger. I looked on eBay, and found charger cables averaging about $5 or $6, and earbuds about the same. For the $50 or so extra, I’d go with a new unit with a warranty. There were a few decent jewelry items, but the prices were nothing to get excited about, and the selection was about what you’d find in a pawn shop.
In the clothing department, I found used blue jeans in my size starting at $8.95 a pair. I can buy new Wranglers at Wally World for under $15 a pair. Anything you can find at the Unclaimed Baggage Center, you can probably also find at your local thrift store in the same condition and save yourself the trip to Scottsboro.
In a separate building across the parking lot, an Annex Store offers unclaimed freight and tools. Again, this was another disappointment. Picture a Family Dollar or Dollar General store with a much more limited selection. The few tools we saw were cheap tool kits made in China.
We’re glad we went to the Unclaimed Baggage Center, because now we can say that we did, but I don’t think we’ll be rushing back anytime soon. If I want to shop a thrift store, I can find one closer to my RV park and save money. But if you’re traveling through Alabama and need to satisfy your curiosity, it may be worth your time to stop.
The Unclaimed Baggage Center is located at 509 West Willow Street in Scottsboro, and is open Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. They are closed on Sundays.
The parking lot would accommodate smaller RVs, but if you drive a big rig, you would be better off parking at a local RV park and driving your tow vehicle or dinghy.
Congratulations Debbie Ashby, winner of our drawing for an audiobook of Big Lake, the first book in my Big Lake mystery series. We had 33 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon.
Thought For The Day – Folgers was wrong. The best part of waking up is going back to sleep after you pee.