Shopping The Lost And Found
A Trip To Scottsboro’s Unclaimed Baggage Center
BY RAY SPECKMAN
For years, I have heard and read about the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Ala. For years, it was not on my way as I traveled.
This March, after a yearly trip to the St. Louis Cardinals’ spring training camp in Jupiter, Fla., when cold and rain caused my significant other, Joyce, and I to cancel our visit to Louisiana Cajun country, Scottsboro was sort of on the way home.
First, we kept an annual tradition, stopping in the Gulf Coast town of Apalachicola, Fla., to enjoy the greatest oysters on earth. From there, it was a short drive along the Gulf of Mexico to Panama City Beach, Fla., where we headed north. After an overnight in Birmingham, Ala., we arrived in Scottsboro.
We were surprised to encounter a huge lake in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Lake Guntersville. Arriving in early afternoon, we were looking for lunch and saw a local spot where the parking lot was filled with vehicles. That’s always a good sign. We were not disappointed. Ever had baked tomato pie? Yum.
We checked into a motel, relaxed and then sought a dinner spot and discovered local law prevented sales of alcohol on Sunday. Alas, no wine with dinner. However, a couple of mini airline bottles of vodka poured into a Diet Coke took care of that problem.
The next morning, a Monday, we were off to the Unclaimed Baggage Center. The place was huge. We arrived an hour after they opened the parking lot, and it was almost full. A quick survey revealed license plates from more than a dozen states.
We entered and were immediately met by a personable staff member. She had worked at the center for more than two decades and immediately told us a bit of its history.
“It began in 1970, when the founder was contacted by a bus line that had unclaimed items and baggage they wanted to sell,” she said. “He drove to Washington D.C., rented a U-Haul and hauled back those items and opened the shop. Now we have 18-wheelers traveling all over the United States to pick up unclaimed baggage and freight from airlines, railroads, cruise ships, bus lines.”
She went on to tell us that some people come to the center every day because the inventory turns over quickly — more than 7,000 new items arrive daily. The center estimates that nearly 1 million people visit every year. We received a map of the center, which occupies a full city block and has around 60,000 square feet of display area.
The clothes on the racks have been cleaned and pressed. Hundreds of shoes, dresses, slacks and scarves are artfully displayed, in the same fashion as at quality department stores. There are hundreds of jewelry items, cell phones, iPads, computers and cameras.
There are also some items not for sale. The center has “museum pieces,” such as huge McDonald’s signs and a Tibetan headdress. There is a coffee shop and deli in the center.
Clerks are helpful and knowledgeable in each department.
We shopped for two hours.
The bottom line: We found no bargains. Joyce is an obsessed shopper, and we walked away from the center empty-handed. Her comment, which I regard as that of an expert shopper, is that it was no big deal. The discounts were not that substantial, and while there were thousands of items to choose from, none were priced so low as to warrant taking home.
Was it worth the trip? Well, we had our curiosity satisfied. But the Unclaimed Baggage Center turned out to be a big deal with no big deals.
Ray Speckman can be found looking for bargains locally or at firstname.lastname@example.org.