Attention shoppers!

One of Alabama’s top tourist attractions is the Unclaimed Baggage Center. It’s not Disneyland, but it is sure is fun.

Have you ever arrived at your destination — but your luggage didn’t? Did it catch up to you? What if it didn’t? Where does lost luggage go anyway? I feel your pain.

Many years ago, I spent four days in Hawaii without my suitcase. Luckily, the airline found it in time for me to bring it home — still packed. I was not a happy traveler.

Sure, lost luggage is a problem for the traveler, but it’s a problem for the airlines too. They have to deal with the unclaimed baggage somehow. Statistically, the number of unclaimed pieces amounts to less than 0.5%. But, so what? If it’s your suitcase — it might as well be 100%.

In 1970, an enterprising young man named Doyle Owens provided a partial solution to the problem. With borrowed money, he purchased unclaimed baggage from a bus line in Washington D.C. to resell.

It was like a huge garage sale in 1970, but 45 years later his little venture has grown to attract almost a million visitors a year to the relatively unknown little hamlet of Scottsboro, Ala.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center — referred to locally as UBC — is laid-out and operates like a department store. It is one city block long and covers almost 50,000 square feet.

The law says airlines have 90 days to reunite a passenger with unclaimed luggage and they make every effort to do so. They pay to settle your claim if this doesn’t happen.

Once a claim is paid, the airline owns the luggage and they in turn sell it to UBC. The price paid by UBC is insignificant because the contents are unknown. The airline, or other common carrier, has already spent money trying to track down the rightful owner and then paid the owner’s claim. They lose money on the deal.

Unclaimed suitcases and cargo are trucked to UBC in Scottsboro where they receive approximately seven thousand items every day.

When bags are opened, the UBC staff separates the contents into three categories. Items with no value are thrown away. Usable items not good enough to sell are donated to charity. Good stuff, items that are functional or wearable, are designated for sale in the UBC store.

Over half of the suitcase contents is clothing. All clothing is dry-cleaned before putting in the UBC store. Any electronic items are tested and wiped clean of personal data.

So, what can you find in the UBC store? I found clothing of every size, color and style imaginable. There are men’s and women’s departments of course, but it is further refined from there.

One popular item is wedding apparel. Wedding gowns, tuxedos and brand new shoes. Understandably, many of these items have never been worn before — or perhaps only once.

There is a whole mezzanine with cameras, computers, electronic items, sporting goods, musical instruments, and even firearms.

I poked around extensively in the electronics department, hoping to find a super bargain. They had tablet computers, cell phones and mp3 players of every brand and model imaginable.

The clerk told me that all items were priced at a 30-to-80% discount from the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. She said that it would always be possible to get a similar item on eBay for less, if you were willing to search for it.

I finally walked out with a pair of sunglasses for $3. I guess I’m not much of a shopper.

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