Mom always advised us to never pack things we don’t want to lose. And yet, chances are your child will end up taking that prized stuffed dinosaur or Barbie doll, your teen will want to have his favorite concert or status tee ready for selfies, and you’ll be packing things you know will complete that perfect family photo for next year’s holiday card. Even with the best of intentions, there is a small percentage your family’s bag of treasures may potentially disappear into a black hole …
Or does it?
More than 1 million lost prized and wearable possessions end up at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama every year because of missing identification tags and other labeling fails. And what do you do with all of that? First, have it washed in a mega-laundry facility using a special cleaning mix developed by the founder’s wife, Mrs. Sue Owens. Next, have a team organize the goods and make it available to the public in a 40,000-square-foot store. Experts with years of experience price each item (running the gamut from everyday clothing for women, men and kids to women’s, men’s, children’s footwear, formal wear, electronics, sporting goods, jewelry, books and luggage), and then offer it to the public at 20 to 80 percent below retail.
If you have pangs of compassion for what others have lost, you can take heart in the fact the sales will raise money for a good cause and unsold goods will be donated to people in need. If a suitcase gets lost on an airplane, the airlines compensate the passengers and do an exhaustive search. After 90 days, Unclaimed Baggage Center purchases the leftover luggage, and from there, painstakingly launders and sorts the contents before they go on to the floor of the massive retail space. From there, the items find new homes, and many losses become “wins.”
In addition to clothing, one may see some almost Antiques Roadshow-caliber finds on display, including a Jim Henson puppet, Hoggle from the movie Labryinth (starring the late David Bowie) as well as a quirky assortment of items from other celebrities.
According to Brenda Cantrell, brand ambassador, Unclaimed Baggage, some percentage of the purchases as well as unclaimed items are donated to Reclaimed for Good, its non-profit foundation, which gives generously and with gratitude to bring hope and help at home and abroad.
“We do this first and foremost with product donations to many organizations such as Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, Wheels for the World, Lions Club International, as well as schools, churches and many more,” said Cantrell. “We have several programs we do, including ‘Love Luggage.’ Here, guests are invited to paint suitcases that are then donated to local foster children. So many foster children leave their homes with very few personal items thrown into a small bag. With Love Luggage, we aim to give these children something that is uniquely theirs that has been painted for and prayed over for them. Check our website or Facebook page for pop up Love Luggage days in the store after the holidays.”
Other activities beyond shopping and painting include selfie sites in front of the store sign and at the Baggage Booth. “It’s fun to look like you’re inside a stack of unclaimed baggage,” said Cantrell. “Sign up for the Baggage Experience, which happens every day at 2:30 p.m. We invite a guest to open an unprocessed suitcase to show them what we do daily … and not to worry, as we clear the bag of anything harmful, dangerous or embarrassing.”
There’s also a treasure trove of life travel lessons to be found and valued. “Be responsible with electronics and other personal items that you carry on the plane,” she said. “Adults leave their electronics behind all the time in back seat pockets and overhead compartments. Establishing some type of protocol to make sure you leave the plane with everything that you started with will save kids (and adults!) a lot of frustration and heartache.”
Once you have had your fill of treasure hunting, Cantrell recommends taking advantage of Scottsboro’s historic and food finds, within a half-mile of the store. “Explore downtown Scottsboro and read the historical markers, grab an ice cream at the oldest soda fountain, stop by the Scottsboro Train Depot and the Jackson County Heritage Museum,” she said. “If you’re looking for a grand adventure on your road trip to Unclaimed Baggage, visit the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville — the home of Space Camp, and stop by Cathedral Caverns in Gurley, located between Scottsboro and Huntsville.”
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