Unclaimed Baggage Center: Refresh Yourself on the Cheap

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Unclaimed Sign - Small

Ever have your luggage lost on the way to or from your Second Shelter? Wonder what became of those reading glasses went left in the airplane seat pocket never to be seen again?

They went to Scottsboro, Ala., to the Unclaimed Baggage Center store.

My “real” job asked that I take some vacation. So last week, for $81, I jetted over to Atlanta and drove to Scottsboro for the day. Yes, you read that right, for the day. (Two days earlier I’d flown to hometown Chicago for the day to enjoy lunch, ice cream, drinks and dinner before flying home.) … but back to Alabama.

In what has to be the best resale store ever, this sprawling 40,000-square-foot store receives between 7,000 to 8,000 new items daily and has become something of a local tourist attraction – certainly it’s the only reason I’d visit this small burg in Alabama! I’ve seen buses pull up with various groups trundling in, searching for a bargain.

Rolling Green from Atlanta to Alabama
Rolling Green from Atlanta to Alabama

It’s a pretty drive from Atlanta, where I saw gas prices in Tennessee for $1.93 a gallon when they were about $2.20 here and $2.35 in Atlanta. Why didn’t I fly into Huntsville, as it’s only 25-miles away from the Unclaimed Baggage store? Cost. Atlanta was $81 and Huntsville was closer to $400. It seems if you need to go to Huntsville, the airlines know you NEED to go.

In addition to rolling hills that take you almost sipping distance to Jack Daniels, you’ll see enormous fireworks warehouses in the snippets of Tennessee you pass through. As you near Scottsboro, the steam towers of the non-operational Bellefonte Nuclear power plant come into view. (Construction began in 1974, halted in 1988, restarted in 2011 and stalled in 2012.)

Lost and Lost
Why aren’t these items returned to their rightful owners? Because in most cases there isn’t enough identifying information. However, there are times when overzealous (or brain dead) airlines ship items off knowing full-well who the owners are. I know because this happened to me. Years ago, I left a Versace jacket on a plane and contacted the airline. The item was located and placed in their Lost and Found area with my contact information. I told them I was traveling and the date I’d return to retrieve the jacket. However this date was beyond their 30-day window for keeping items and so they packed it up and shipped it off to Alabama. Yes, I was very peeved when I returned to find all this out.

Lose Your Sunglasses?
Lose Your Sunglasses? You’re not Alone!

This store “began” in the 1970s when a gentleman drove around to various government sales picking up items to resell. This morphed over the years into this single store having contracts with all the airlines in the US to ship their lost and found items to Alabama. I’m told by a friend at Southwest that, “I should see the warehouse” of stuff waiting to go.

One Oddity: Still in Bag Bedding
One Oddity: Still in Bag Bedding

Treasures to Uncover

What’s at the store? Everything people fly with. Some of the more odd things I’ve seen in my three visits have been a full set of dumbbells, computer printers and on this trip, a wall of bed-in-a-bag sets (trade show samples?). This trip there was also an aisle of small kitchen appliances in their boxes (part of the same housewares trade show as the bedding?).

The Electronics Section with Cases of Cameras
The Electronics Section with Cases of Cameras

One of the big reasons for visiting is the electronics section. Need a gently-used phone, tablet or computer? This may be the place. Unlike some places like eBay where items are in “whatever” condition, at the Unclaimed Baggage store, they keep the cream of the crop. It’s also likely they’re in better shape because people lost these items, they’re not hocking them on eBay because they cracked a screen or like 19% of cell phone owners, dropped them in the toilet.

The iPad "Pound"
The iPad “Pound”

If you’re a Realtor in need of smartening up your image with an iPad, this may be a way to get one at a more reasonable price. In the real world, you pay a premium for an iPad with cellular services. Here, they’re the same price as an equivalent WiFi-only model. Here’s a sample …

iPad Air 2: 16GB $335; 64GB $399; 128GB $435. On eBay, the 16GBs started around $400, the 64GBs between $5-600 and the 128GBs were $700+. Unfortunately for myself and the friends who’d given me their shopping lists, the only Air 2s in stock were the 16GBs that no one wanted.

It follows that the ratio of what people purchase new will equate to what they lose. For example, there were MANY iPads but only a handful of Android tablets. For phones, it was the reverse with Android phones outpacing iPhones (there were just a couple of forlorn Windows phones).

Laptop-wise, there were similar cases of various Windows models of various price points. Looking for a MacBook? They were starting in the $600-ish range.

Former Owners who Weren’t Dressed-up but had Somewhere to Go
Former Owners who Weren’t Dressed-up but had Somewhere to Go

Baubles and Ball Gowns
Need some new jewelry? Well, regardless of the season there are cases of summ’er diamonds (summ’er diamonds, some ain’t) to peruse. Everything from costume to couture. On my last visit there was a Cartier watch and a floating diamond Chopard watch. You’d also likely be surprised how many people lose their wedding rings on flights (no word on how many were found slipped off for a clandestine Mile High Club initiation). There were two trays of wedding bands and a similar number of engagement rings.

Added since my last visit two years ago, is the formalwear room. Lord knows how many of these lost dresses resulted in frantic buying before an important soiree or wedding. Speaking of weddings, if you want a dress on the cheap, this may be worth a shot with a small bridal “salon” tucked away in a corner.

I Think Right One Was Lost on Purpose!
I Think Right One Was Lost on Purpose!

The bulk of the space is taken up unsurprisingly with clothing. Unlike retailers who are always a season ahead, the Unclaimed Baggage store is usually a bit behind. Given that airlines may attempt to find an owner for 30-90 days, the resulting turnover is similarly delayed. That said, I’ve been told there’s an offsite warehouse that enables them to keep stuff for the appropriate season. However some things never go out of season – like undies!

Yes, that’s right folks, after laundering, there be undies in them thar’ bins! I get the feeling that the vast majority never make it to sale. Either that or a lot more of you are using Cottonelle than I’d have thought.

A Section of the Women's Department
A Section of the Women’s Department

Reflecting the “what is bought is lost” ratio hypothesis, the women’s department is much larger than the men’s. Racks and racks of shoes, dresses, pants slacks and the like. Some pretty first-rate labels too. On by brief saunter, I saw a ladies Gucci black leather skirt suit marked at $850 for the couture dominatrix on a budget.

I didn’t have a lot of time to pilfer through the men’s department so I did a quick scan seeing an array of bedazzled jeans, racks of slogan/logo printed golf and t-shirts and a small rack of outerwear costs that I made a beeline to.

This is where I found the best deal of the day. A pristine, navy 100% cashmere Loro Piana jacket that retails for $3,850 … for $199 … in my size … now in my closet! For some reason these Alabamians (or their shoppers) don’t know who Loro Piana is. On my first visit I scored a Loro Piana rain coat for $65.

Loro - Small

FINALLY, no trip would be complete without a little misogynistic advertising courtesy of DFW’s parking buses. Because only men fly for work and the little woman stays at home plotting the next Sandra Bullock “click flick” payback.



Remember: Do you have an HOA story to tell? A little high-rise history? Realtors, want to feature a listing in need of renovation or one that’s complete with flying colors? How about hosting a Candy’s Dirt Staff Meeting? Shoot Jon an email. Marriage proposals accepted (they’re legal)! sharewithjon@candysdirt.com


Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson is CandysDirt.com's condo/HOA and developer columnist, but also covers second home trends on SecondShelters.com. An award-winning columnist, Jon has earned silver and bronze awards for his columns from the National Association of Real Estate Editors in both 2016, 2017 and 2018. When he isn't in Hawaii, Jon enjoys life in the sky in Dallas.

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