The nearly 50-year-old Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, is the only retailer in the country that buys and sells the contents of luggage lost on U.S. airlines, trains, and buses. The bags are purchased sight unseen and processed in a 40,000-square-foot warehouse with one of the largest dry-cleaning facilities in the state. What doesn’t work for retail is tossed or donated.
What that means for you, our opportunistic shopper friend, is that on any given day, you could score a terrific deal on practically new Bose headphones, an iPhone, iPad, laptop, Kindle, DSLR camera, or other gear absentmindedly left behind by some unlucky traveler. And that’s just the tech stuff. UBC routinely unearths sparkly engagement rings, blingy Rolex watches, expensive golf clubs, electric guitars, and fancy purses. Of course, for every Furla or Marc By Marc Jacobs bag found, there are two trillion Bubba Gump margarita glasses, junky snow globes and souvenir magnets, half-squeezed tubes of toothpaste, and unfashionable capri pants.
Rummaging here is always a hoot, if a bit surreal. It’s fascinating to imagine the humdrum things human beings pack when they travel or shop on the road, but also the more unusual items that make it into our luggage. On recent visits to UBC, we spotted an intact Dora the Explorer piñata, a hand-painted rendition of the cover art from Doggystyle (um, why?), and a turkey-basting rack. Alas, the absolute weirdest finds are kept by the UBC and put on display. When shopping, simply look up to appreciate the UBC Museum of long-lost oddities, including a jeweled Moroccan dagger, Hoggle from Labyrinth, and a xylophone once belonging to Neil Diamond.
More than 800,000 shoppers visit UBC every year, many making day trips in from Birmingham, Atlanta, Chattanooga, and Nashville. Workers unpack around 7,000 items a day and the stock is constantly being replenished. There are two buildings to navigate: The main store houses men’s and women’s departments, formalwear (including lost wedding dresses), jewelry, shoes, bags, books, electronics, outdoor equipment, and suitcases (natch). The UBC Etc. store, located across the parking lot from the menswear exit, has three additional levels, divided into children’s clothing and toys, household/tools, and an everything-must-go Last Chance room, including several aisles of medicine, cosmetics, and toiletries. Look closely here: We scored $60 worth of unopened Japanese and Korean skincare products for $4.
Finally, as you’re browsing, keep your eyes peeled for the big blue bins. These are filled to the brim with a hodgepodge of the latest roll-outs—everything from hair crimpers to rice cookers to vials of scrapbooking glitter. People go crazy rifling through them, so sharpen your ‘bows and get in there!
509 W. Willow St., Scottsboro, AL; 256-259-1525.