Here’s what I found when I dug for treasure at the ‘unclaimed mail’ store that went viral on TikTok

Treasure hunt
I visited Treasure Hunt in Evansville, Indiana. Courtesy of Kevin Greenlee and Áine Cain/Insider
  • An “unclaimed mail” store in Evansville, Indiana, recently went viral on TikTok.
  • I decided to check the store out for myself, swinging by on Wednesday.
  • The shopping experience involved a lot of hunting and zero treasure.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Modern-day consumers and the cackling, cutlass-swinging pirates of popular folklore have one key trait in common: they both love a treasure hunt. That premise is baked into layout strategies for plenty of major companies, including Costco, Target, and TJ Maxx. But other retailers take it a step further than that.

A viral TikTok video showcased a store in Evansville, Indiana, with a business model completely centered around the premise of the “treasure hunt.” The store is even named Treasure Hunt. In the footage, the store appears to sell unclaimed mail, with numerous packages still bearing intended mail addresses. TikTok user Addison Hearrin filmed herself rifling through a number of unopened packages in the store, ultimately selecting five. She said she obtained a number of Nike and Louis Vuitton products for a steeply discounted price. Insider’s attempts to reach Hearrin were unsuccessful.

Mail that can’t be delivered or returned gets sent to the USPS Mail Recovery Center. According to the USPS website, the MRC will sometimes “auction off the items held” in lots. The United States Postal Service could not confirm that Treasure Hunt is hawking unclaimed mail, however.

“There is no way to tell from the video if all the packages in the store or the purchased packages were handled by the United States Postal Service (USPS),” a spokesperson for USPS told Insider in a statement. “Other carriers (FedEx and UPS) have their own protocols when dealing with undeliverable items.”

To get the inside story on Treasure Hunt, I decided to head down to Evansville and check it out for myself.

I live in Indianapolis, around three hours away from Evansville. My husband and I made the trek to the Crescent City together, eager to get our hands on untold treasures.
Treasure hunt road indiana evansville indianapolis
As we got closer, we noticed a number of discount and thrift stores around Evansville. I later found out that the owners of Treasure Hunt also run several similar operations in the area.
Treasure hunt store evansville
After hours of driving, we finally pulled into a strip mall-type area. Treasure Hunt’s storefront was unassuming, with its price schedule helpfully posted out upfront.
Treasure hunt store evansville
Inside, the store was pretty bare bones, with a number of aisles of wooden troughs. These structures contained everything from food to apparel to unclaimed parcels.
Treasure hunt store evansville
True to its name, the store maintains a theme that would make any salty sea dog proud.
Treasure hunt store evansville
There was even a big display depicting a battle between a kraken and a buccaneer. But in terms of merchandise, what we found was more like a handful of barnacles than a chest of gleaming gold coins.
Treasure hunt store evansville
But our timing may have been to blame. The store restocks its unopened packages every Friday. The weekend is the best time to hit the store, if you’re looking for choice merchandise.
Treasure hunt store evansville
We happened to arrive on a Wednesday. The pickings were pretty slim, not to mention battered, torn, and pawed-over.
Treasure hunt store evansville
The eponymous treasure hunt consists of digging through these bins for desirable buys.
Treasure hunt store evansville
I came in expecting to see tubs of still-packaged goods, but I mostly encountered loose objects.
Treasure hunt store evansville
In fact, I only came across a handful of still-packaged goods.
Treasure hunt store evansville
The few intact boxes had things like “refused,” “return to sender,” and “no such number” written on them, just like the Elvis Presley song.
Treasure hunt store evansville
There were quite a number of signs barring shoppers from unwrapping packages …
Treasure hunt store evansville
… but apparently those exhortations didn’t take. Almost every package we encountered had been ripped open in some fashion.
Treasure hunt store evansville
There were even loose Reese’s chocolates in one bin. That was a stomach-turning sight.
Treasure hunt store evansville
I asked a worker where the inventory came from, and we overheard a number of shoppers pose the same question. No one seemed to have any answers about the origin of the inventory, which was odd.
Treasure hunt store evansville
By the time we got there, the mix was a wild jumble of odds-and-ends. Rummaging through the bins, I came across a bra …
Treasure hunt store evansville
… a crop top from Delta Sigma Theta …
Treasure hunt store evansville
… whatever the heck this piece of machinery is …
Treasure hunt store evansville
… a kit containing an Islamic prayer rug …
Treasure hunt store evansville
… a deer antler …
Treasure hunt store evansville
… some Breeze pads …
Treasure hunt store evansville
… a small object that looked like an egg but was not an egg …
Treasure hunt store evansville
… a video game controller …
Treasure hunt store evansville
… a broken toy gun …
Treasure hunt store evansville
… and these dental veneers.
Treasure hunt store evansville
I found this item – a stretch of fabric printed with the image of a young man – particularly haunting. Who is he? Why did he never receive this seemingly highly-personalized product? What happened here?
Treasure hunt store evansville
I also felt guilty thinking that I might be rifling through items that someone was missing. Could a person be out there looking for their rush crop top, veneers, prayer rug, or weird-egg-thing?
Treasure hunt store evansville
Frankly, I didn’t enjoy the shopping experience. I can see how a customer might enjoy browsing through packages after a fresh restock. But on the day I visited, it felt a bit like dumpster-diving.
Treasure hunt store evansville
Other areas of the store were less chaotic. The walls of the store were lined with boxes containing beverages, for those looking to buy drinks in bulk. We ended up perusing through each of the product trays, and examining the piles of boxes around the edges.
Treasure hunt store evansville
That wasn’t the end of our quest, however. While in Treasure Hunt, we saw a few intriguing flyers for a sister store, one that openly touted its inventory of “lost mail, freight claims, and abandoned freight.”
Treasure hunt store evansville
So we drove a few minutes away to hit up Lost Cargo, a store with the same owner as Treasure Hunt.
Lost cargo store evansville
Lost Cargo had a significantly more spaced-out, organized shop.
Lost cargo store evansville
This location had more high-end inventory …
Lost cargo store evansville
… including these Ralph Lauren dresses. There was definitely less of a “treasure hunt” aspect to the shop, but it still touted its reliance on “lost mail.”
Lost cargo store evansville ralph lauren
Soon enough, it was time to go home and unwrap the mystery purchases. In the viral TikTok, surprise buys included Louis Vuitton products. Would we be so lucky?
Treasure hunt store purchases
The first item appeared to be some kind of sturdy tablet case. Fine.
Treasure hunt store purchases
The second package – a big tube with two opaque, taped-up ends – contained nothing! We had bought an empty cardboard cylinder. We paid for that with our money.
Treasure hunt store purchases
The third purchase was somehow the most baffling. We looked up the return address and found that it was connected to a PO box in Rosemead, California.
Treasure hunt store purchases
Online, that PO box has been linked to a number of scams. The wooden contents of the parcel did little to clear things up.
Treasure hunt store purchases
It figures that when you shop at a store with a business model based that looks suspiciously like dumpster diving, and you’re likely to grab some garbage.
Treasure hunt store purchases
Still, I can see the appeal that the prospect of buried treasure has for many customers. And I found at least one fun, cheap knickknack in the troughs. It’s not everyday that you can say that you discovered the Ark of the Covenant at a store in Evansville, Indiana.
Treasure hunt