Lost luggage is getting new life! Unclaimed Baggage is bringing its wares on the road, so you can experience the popular store for yourself.
How It Works
When a bag is lost, airlines have 90 days to reunite it with its owner. Airlines are successful at this 99.5 percent of the time, but what happens to that 0.5 percent of baggage that’s deemed officially lost? The Unclaimed Baggage store buys it with the intent of repurposing every item inside the suitcase. “Our goal is to keep these items out of the landfill,” explains Sonni Hood, Brand Ambassador for Unclaimed Baggage. “We want to give them new life.”
The company has contracts with all major U.S. airlines and receives bags by the truckload each week. Bag openers (yes, that’s a real job) carefully inspect each item inside the luggage and decide whether to sell, donate, or recycle it. All clothing gets professionally laundered before hitting the sales floor. The 50,000-square-foot physical store takes up an entire city block in the small town of Scottsboro, Alabama, but there’s also a newly-launched online store that stocks completely different items than in-store.
What To Expect At The Pop-Up
To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the store is hitting all 50 states to share the unique Unclaimed Baggage experience. I recently went to the pop-up in Nashville, Tennessee, set in front of the iconic Grand Ole Opry. Walking up the tent, my attention was immediately drawn to the traveling museum of oddities. This display showcases some of the craziest items found in suitcases over the last five decades. On display were signed memorabilia, beautifully-adorned masquerade masks, and even a rattlesnake! Yes, there was an actual live rattlesnake found in an unclaimed bag! This traveling display is just part of the store’s collection; there is much more to see in the store. “We have Hoggle from the movie Labyrinth,” says Hood. “Some people travel to our store just to see Hoggle.”
The pop-up event is interactive, with visitors getting the chance to play one of two games: Finders Keepers and the Unclaimed Baggage Experience. Finders Keepers allows the player to pick one of three suitcases to see what’s inside. They can either keep it or reject it in order to pick another suitcase. When I was there, the players turned down a nice wine tumbler, but ended up winning a designer purse!
The Unclaimed Baggage Experience allows you to play the role of bag opener! There’s a newly-received suitcase and you go through it and decide which items to sell, donate, and recycle. During this experience, the players found a lot of men’s clothes and shoes. Unclaimed baggage does this experience every afternoon in its Alabama store and it’s always a popular event. “Every bag tells a story,” laughs Hood. “You can tell a lot about a person by going through their luggage.”
Another highlight of the pop-up event is Hugo. Hugo is an exact replica of the truck the founder used to pick up his first batch of unclaimed luggage to start the store. Hugo is bright orange and packed with a large pile of suitcases in the truck’s bed. Hugo is driveable — he cruised down Broadway during his trip to Nashville — but he travels across the country in a carrier truck.
At the pop-up experience, you will also be able to shop for exclusive items on Unclaimed Baggage’s online store. Just scan the QR code in the tent to gain access to these items available only to pop-up visitors.
About Unclaimed Baggage
In 1970, entrepreneur Doyle Owens bought unclaimed luggage from an East Coast transportation company, then sold the items from a card table. 8 years later, he had his first partnership with a major airline and the company grew from there. Doyle’s son and his wife bought the business in 1995 and expanded the Alabama store to include the Museum of Found Treasures and a cafe. Today, the Unclaimed Baggage store is one of the top tourist attractions in Alabama, serving more than a million shoppers each year.
“What sets us apart is our items. At a thrift store, people are getting rid of items they no longer want,” says Hood. “Our store has things that people love so much they took them on vacation with them!”
Also setting them apart is their philanthropy efforts, Reclaimed For Good. Unclaimed Baggage donates many of the items to a wide array of charities across the country. “We are the largest donor of prescription eyeglasses to the Lions Club,” explains Hood. “We also donate car seats, strollers, wheelchairs, among many other items.” But, perhaps the favorite charity is the in-house one, Love Luggage. Employees and volunteers paint luggage with bright colors and inspirational sayings, then donate them to foster homes so children do not have to transport their belongings in trash bags.
The Unclaimed Baggage road tour is only halfway through its journey, so there’s still time for you to experience the pop-up event. Here is a list of the remaining cities and dates:
- Atlanta: June 23-25
- Jacksonville: June 28-29
- Tampa: June 30
- Orlando: July 1-4
- Charlotte: July 6
- New York City: July 9-10
- Lexington, KY: July 30
- Dallas: August 4-6
- Phoenix: August 11
- Las Vegas: August 12-13
- Los Angeles: August 16-17
- San Francisco: August 19-20
- Portland: August 24
- Seattle: August 27
- Salt Lake City: August 30-31
- Colorado Springs: September 2
- Home in Scottsboro: September 6
- Wrap-up in St. Louis: September 8
These dates are subject to change due to various reasons, so be sure to check the road tour page on the Unclaimed Baggage website for updates about each location.
For a deeper dive on some of the items found at the Unclaimed Baggage store, check out 12 Unusual And Unique Things I Found At The Unclaimed Baggage Store and 8 Perfect Gifts I Found At The Unclaimed Baggage Store.