By: Sheila O’Connor

Love a good bargain? Who doesn’t? As women (and men) it’s often been said we are born to shop. It must be a basic instinct but shopping is something we love (okay maybe the guys don’t love this part quite so much but even they love it when they get a bargain). And there’s no better place to put that instinct into practice than at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, just 40 miles from Huntsville, Alabama.

“It’s a treasure hunt. You never know what to expect” says Brenda Cantrell, their Marketing Director. With over 7,000 new items being added every single day, yes – every day, those words definitely ring true. So if you have ever wondered where your lost baggage ends up, it’s right there in Scottsboro….and you can even buy it back if you want to!

The store began back in 1970 when Doyle Owens, who originally sold insurance, was given a couple of unclaimed suitcases by one of the airlines. Expecting them to sell eventually, within a couple of weeks, he was surprised to find all the items were gone in just one day. He knew straight away that he was on to something. That “something” is now the only unclaimed baggage store in the country that gets 1 million visitors every year. It receives unclaimed baggage and freight from airlines and bus companies.

It’s not that the companies don’t try to match the luggage with its owners. They do. But after 90 days, after which 99 percent does get reunited, they give up. The passengers have usually been compensated (up to $2,500 per passenger). The Unclaimed Baggage Center then purchases the bags, sight unseen and brings them to the outlet in Scottsboro.

The items are then sorted out and laundered. Books, designer clothes, electronics, kitchen items and of course, luggage are just some of them. “We get 40,000 items in a slow month!” says Cantrell, whose own wedding ring is a platinum ‘reclaimed’ item from the store. An antique at a great price-now that’s not only romantic, it’s practical too. Items are then given to a team of pricers who will mark them down 20-80% off the original MRP. The 40,000 square foot store, which covers a city block, sells approximately a third of the items it receives, donates another third to charity and throws around a third away (“These items are unsuitable for our store. They could be things that are not appropriate for a family outlet,” says Cantrell).

One large donation the Center makes is the 16,000 eye glasses that are given to the Lions Club – equal to one percent of all the donations that club receives annually.

Since the items are on sale every day, no “sales” as such are offered, but once a year on the first Saturday in November there is a snow and ski equipment sale, just right for the upcoming ski season.

Despite all the sales that are made, some items just seem to want to spend more time at the Unclaimed Baggage Store. It’s not the first time a lost item that has been sold and has found it’s way right back again, having been lost a second time. “We recognize our own tags when the items get lost and come back to us again”, says Cantrell. “We have no way of knowing who the second owner was and we just hope that with the next sale, the item stays with its new buyer!”

You won’t want to miss these bargains. “One of the country’s best kept shopping secrets,” says Oprah Winfrey. And it is. People traveling south often make it a regular stop on their visits to the southern sun. And it’s no wonder. If you go, plan to spend about half a day here scooping up the bargains. There’s everything for the family and the house here. That southern sun can wait. Gotta satisfy that primitive instinct–there’s shopping to be done.

Other things to visit in the area: the Old State Bank, Little River Canyon National Preserve (deepest canyon east of the Mississippi) and DeSoto Falls, U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Cathedral Caverns State Park in Grant.

Hours of the Unclaimed Baggage Center are Monday-Friday 9-6 and Saturday 8-6, closed Sundays, Thanksgiving and Xmas. Website: UnclaimedBaggageCenter.com. For more information on the Huntsville area contact the CVB at Huntsville.org

Sheila O’Connor is a freelance writer who specializes in such areas as relationships, parenting, health, travel and golf. This is Sheila’s first article for Johnny Jet. When she is not exploring the globe, Sheila is at home in San Francisco with her husband and three children.

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