Ever wondered where your lost luggage ends up?
Chances are you were expecting it to be in an exotic locale far, far, away — in reality, it might only be as far as Alabama.
Scottsboro, Alabama, is home to the Unclaimed Baggage Center, a 40,000 square-foot warehouse filled with items gleaned from luggage lost all over the country.
Let’s take a tour of the unusual facility:
The store got its start in 1970, when an entrepreneurial-minded part-time insurance salesman had the idea of selling luggage that was left behind at a bus station in DC. He started buying bags from the station and selling their contents on tables outside a few days a week.
He then expanded the practice to airlines, moved back to his hometown, and thus the UBC was born.
Brenda Cantrell, brand ambassador at UBC, estimates that the store is home to over one million items at any given time.
No, airlines aren't just selling your stuff and making a profit off of your misery. Lost luggage is pretty rare these days, and airlines go to great lengths to reunite you with yours.
After a 90-day search, your bag legally belongs to the airline, though you've probably gotten some sort of compensation for it by then. That's when the UBC, which has exclusive agreements with various airlines, swoops in and buys the bags -- much like an episode of 'Storage Wars.'
Only once they fail does the UBC come in. As the nation's largest purchaser of unclaimed baggage and freight, it also buys bags from train stations and car rentals, as well as the occasional surplus cargo.
You might be wondering how they do any business when so many bags get reunited with their owners, but the trick is that airlines aren't liable for your carry-ons, so if you leave that behind, chances are you'll find it in Alabama.
Since checking luggage usually comes with a fee nowadays, more and more people are travelling with carry-ons to avoid them -- these are the UBC's bread and butter, especially for their electronics department.
Dubbed 'The Lost Luggage Capital of the World,' the UBC attracts around one million visitors a year from all over the country, plus 40 more.
Those items deemed sellable get cleaned at UBC's in-house dry cleaner (the largest commercial dry cleaner in Alabama).
...and electronics go through Department of Defence protocol to get scrubbed clean -- so your vacation photos won't end up in the wrong hands.
Apparently, one guy once bought a piece of art from the UBC for $60, and later found out it was worth $25,000.
Another time, a man from Atlanta bought his wife a pair of ski boots. Turns out, they were the exact same boots she had lost on a trip years earlier -- her name was written on the inside!
Some of the odder items include a six-foot-tall paper mache Tinkerbell, a set of McDonald's arches, a puppet from the movie 'Labyrinth,' a live rattlesnake, 50 vacuum-packed frogs, a full suit of armour, an engraved headstone, and a mummified hawk dating back about 4,000 years.
But they've also found some really high-end items, from a jacket signed by Paul McCartney to a Versace gown, Vera Wang wedding dresses, a platinum Rolex, and a 5.8-carat diamond set in a platinum band, packed in a sock.
A camera from a space shuttle was promptly returned to NASA, while a missile guidance system for a fighter jet was quickly given back to the Air Force.
That's what makes the UBC so great though -- it's full of awesome stuff. This isn't outdated junk that people donated, it's stuff they wanted to take on vacation with them.
But the most interesting thing about the UBC is their little slice of insight into the world of fashion and tech.
According to Cantrell, 'we're always a little behind, but we have that little insight,' citing that she could tell that scarves were back when she started seeing more and more of them at the store; that she's seen a huge increase in Apple products over the years; and that recently people have been asking for Patagonia outerwear, over the traditionally popular North Face apparel.
The UBC is more than a thrift store. It hosts around 26 annual events, like the now-famous Winter & Ski Sale, their version of Black Friday, in which people line up for hours to snag winter gear… In the middle of Alabama.
'We try to set ourselves apart from a normal retailer because we are not that. We're the only one in the world that does this,' Cantrell said.
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