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How All of America’s Lost Luggage Ends Up at One Alabama Thrift Store (And Why You Really Need to Go There)

Unclaimed Baggage might be the world's best thrift store. Here's the inside scoop on how to shop there and what you might find.

By Christy Lynch on November 16, 2017

Have you ever wondered what happens to lost airline luggage that never makes it back to its owner?

Of course you haven’t. But when you find out, you’re going to wish you’d wondered about it sooner.

The short answer is: it ends up in the tiny town of Scottsboro, Alabama, at a store called Unclaimed Baggage. This store is exactly what it sounds like: a place that sells people’s long-lost stuff.

Clothes, shoes, books, cameras, musical instruments, sporting goods, books, computers, cologne, jewelry, bags – Unclaimed Baggage adds 7,000(!) new items to their inventory every day, all taken from luggage that was lost and never recovered.

Here’s how it works: airlines spend three months trying to reunite people with their lost suitcases. After this process, only a small percentage of orphaned bags are left, and these are sold to the Unclaimed Baggage Center, where employees rummage through their contents (and find some really, really weird things). Items unsuitable for reuse are thrown away, many others are donated, and the rest are cleaned and sold in their huge, almost too-good-to-be-true shopping center.

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Because of this selective process, Unclaimed Baggage’s merchandise is superior to other secondhand retail offerings. These are things that people liked enough to pack for a trip – not bottom-of-the-barrel possessions that folks were ready to get rid of anyway. Over the years, I’ve bought everything from MacBooks to designer blazers to the dress I wore in my best friend’s wedding at Unclaimed Baggage. And I paid a fraction of the price each time.

As a shamelessly seasoned expert, here’s how I like to tackle a day spent at “Unclaimed” (as the locals call it).

First up, I visit the electronics department. Whether I’m in the market for a new device or just looking for a deal too good to pass up, electronics is the perfect place to start (in the morning, if possible, when the selection is still ripe for the picking). People leave phones, computers, cameras, tablets, and eReaders on planes all the time. If you aren’t opposed to buying your electronics used, I think Unclaimed Baggage is the only place to go. (Don’t worry – they wipe the previous owner’s information from each device before selling it to you.

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Next I hit up the shoes, since they tend to get picked over pretty quickly. You’ll have the best selection and the least chaotic shopping experience if you visit the shoe department early in the day.

After that, I like to spend some time poring over the seasonal offerings – coats and sweaters are particularly fun to shop for here. I’ve lost count of how many gorgeous, unique coats (like the Burberry pictured below) from Unclaimed Baggage have saved the day when the outerwear at my favorite chain store was too expensive or bland.

Unclaimed Baggage - Coat
Photo by Christy Lynch

After lunch (because shopping at Unclaimed Baggage is a full day affair), I’ll usually peruse the bags, jewelry, and accessories to round out my afternoon. Anyone who loves brand names should pay special attention to Unclaimed’s handbag selection. I get lightheaded just thinking about the towers and towers of discounted designer purses all waiting for someone to give them a new home.

Finally, I finish the day with a visit to the denim department. What better way to end a glorious shopping marathon than by replenishing your wardrobe’s supply of good-looking staples?

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On your way out, don’t forget to visit the formalwear room. Even if you don’t have any galas in your immediate future, it’s fun to see the beautiful gowns that end up there – and to invent elaborate backstories for all the wedding dresses for sale! Yikes.

Unclaimed Baggage is the perfect destination for a day trip if you’re in the Southeast. But if you’re coming from farther away (and make no mistake, wherever you live, you should come), don’t fret – the store has covered all the bases to make shopping as easy and convenient as possible. They’ll even board your dog for you while you shop and mail your purchases to your door for only the cost of shipping.

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