Food Feature: Bama baggage

Unclaimed treasures in Scottsboro

Every day is Christmas at Unclaimed Baggage, a uniquely different store that is a shopper's paradise. Located about 45 minutes from the Huntsville Alabama airport, in the nearby town of Scottsboro, Unclaimed Baggage Center is the place to go when your budget dictates an inexpensive shopping spree.

Almost all luggage that has mysteriously vanished from the planet can be found again at the Unclaimed Baggage Center. If you have lost a Nikon 35mm camera, or Laura Ashley dresses, or Ferragamo shoes, or yes, even imported silk underpants without holes in them, chances are that they'll wind up here, along with truckloads of other unclaimed airline passenger property purchased by UBC. ?

Although only .002 percent of all airline baggage goes unclaimed, the sheer number of airline passengers traveling these days has resulted in an unprecedented number of missing silk underpants. Industry figures show that 1 billion passengers check approximately 2 billion bags every year. And of these 2 billion bags checked, only five of every 1,000 are mishandled. Of this small number, 98 percent are reunited with their owners within five days. But, let's face it, 2 percent of 2 billion bags is still lotsa unclaimed stuff. ?

Doyle Owens, an entrepreneur and father of current president and CEO Bryan Owens, opened Unclaimed Baggage Center in 1970, thinking that it might be a good idea to invest in a business that bought and sold lost and unclaimed property. Turns out he was right. Every year, nearly 1 million items are collected, refurbished and categorized, and then displayed at UBC. Since many travelers take their best clothes with them, or purchase great stuff on vacation, many of the items received here are of high quality and in excellent condition. This includes a recent purchase of a suitcase filled with Versace dresses as well as a 40-carat natural emerald on sale for $29,500 — a fraction of the original cost. ?

And there's more. Books and window shades, candles and notions, St. John Knits, Hermes scarves and Burberry overcoats, a lovely London Fog overcoat for less than $25, even old bras and underpants that employees wash up and sell. The gently used items here get picked over pretty quickly. By 3 p.m. there's little left to choose from. The electronics department is a boon for people looking for bargains on cameras, tape players and more. A Canon Sure Shot A1 camera that sells here for $65 (retails for $229) and a portable CD/tape player retailing for $150 can be bought at UBC for $35 along with other great buys. ?

Thousands of tourists come each week to hunt for treasure at Unclaimed Baggage Center. In 2002, UBC had over 850,000 shoppers knocking at its doors, making it one of the top tourist attractions in Alabama. However, you can shop over the Internet by going to the company's website at www.unclaimedbaggage.com. ?

Gifts like a brand new beautiful Ardress Liqueur Decanter — mouth blown and polished in Ireland — sells here for $55, rather than the retail price of $110. Aye, and begorrah, there's even a shelf full of imported Tyrone Irish Crystal that sells here for half the usual price. ?

Since Unclaimed Baggage Center takes all bags off the hands of the airlines sight unseen, the contents can be anything. On one occasion, says store officials, UBC received a full case of Egyptian artifacts including an ancient mummified falcon, burial mask and scarabs that had been buried in a pharaoh's tomb. ?

If you don't want your luggage to go the way of the ancient mummified falcon, then take heed of some of Unclaimed Baggage Center's Tips for Travelers: ?

- Don't pack impossible-to-replace items. Keep your valuables with you --including prescriptions, travel documents and cash, as well as jewelry. If you routinely take expensive jewelry and clothing or equipment, cover their replacement value under a policy you buy in addition to the automatic, limited coverage provided by the airline. ?

- Bag tags can be torn off. Get a suitcase that has a slide-in window about the size of a business card for secondary identification. Make sure that your tag has a current address!?

- Put additional identification inside your bag including a copy of your itinerary. This can help the airlines know whether to send your bags to your travel destination or your home. ?

- Label things you want back with your name and address. Your glasses case, designer eyewear, camera etc. It's essential that you have identification on them, so they can be returned to you. ?

- Make your bag stand out from the others so you can find it quickly. Tie a colored ribbon on the handle, or put a colored elastic band around it. ?

- Make sure the airline tag placed on your luggage correctly identifies the last destination on your journey. This can prevent your bag from being off-loaded too early. ?

- Be sure you get your bag tag stubs with the UPC bar code. These act as your receipt and are your proof your bag was checked. ?

- If you don't see your luggage in the baggage claim area, go to the baggage agent on duty and see if your luggage might have already arrived. If it isn't there, complete the paperwork, and be as detailed as possible. Hope for the best, but if all else fails, you can always fly to Scottsboro and go shopping. ?


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