By Marla Ballard
SCOTTSBORO – In 1970 a great deal of marked events were in the news; The Beatles dissolved their band, NASA’s Apollo 13 Moon Mission returned to Earth successfully after an explosion, and the first jumbo-jet, the Boeing 747, made its debut commercial flight. That was also the same year that Hugo Doyle Owens borrowed a 1965 Chevy pickup truck, got a loan for $300, and drove to Washington D.C. to purchase his first load of unclaimed baggage from Trailways Bus line.
Owens set up card tables in a rented house to sell the contents he hauled home. The venture was so successful that he left his full-time job and started the internationally recognized business now known as the Unclaimed Baggage Center.
The center became notably recognized in 1995 when Oprah Winfrey featured the store as one of the best-kept shopping secrets. The store has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, as well as showcased on TODAY and the Travel Channel. The business hosts more than one million visitors annually from every state and 40 countries.
Doyle’s entrepreneurial endeavors led him to landing contracts with major airlines, solidifying the businesses position as the country’s only lost luggage store. Recently the business celebrated its 50th Anniversary by sending representatives to all fifty states on a 16-week tour. The replica of the original Chevy truck Owens used (nicknamed Hugo after the founder) was taken on the tour and currently creates a photo opportunity for visitors to the store.
Employees restock the 50,000 square foot facility with up to 7,000 new items daily. Two years ago, unclaimedbaggage.com added online shopping with up to 5,000 new items weekly. “The travel industry takes 90 days to identify owners of lost luggage, it should be known that the airlines find 99.5 percent of the owners of lost luggage,” said Sonni Hood, Public Relations Manager. “Travelers would be wise to place identification inside their luggage so it is returned if lost.”
Hood continued, “What most customers do not realize is we sell one-third, recycle one-third, and donate one-third of our purchased goods. While we do donate across the globe, we are especially aware of those in need in our own backyard. For example, when we acquire wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and the like and they are donated to the Lions Club and local churches who give them to those in need.” Hood also stated that eye glasses, balances on gift cards, and suitcases for children in need are donated to charities.
Unclaimed Baggage Mission Statement: “To redeem the lost, unclaimed, and rejected for the glory of God.”
Shoppers can look forward in 2023 to seeing a new exhibit of the peculiar items that have been found in the luggage over the years. “We have found some amazing and shocking things over the years,” said Hood. “We have found a live rattlesnake, moose antlers, and a lot of taxidermy.” Also found was a wristwatch valued at $64,000, it was quickly purchased for a bargain by a watch collector.
The store offers southern hospitality with free Wi-Fi and a café with light fare. “We are a destination where customers can find items with reduced prices up to 80 percent off suggested retail price,” said Hood.
Unclaimed Baggage is located at 509 W. Willow St. Phone: 256-259-1525. Follow on Facebook and Instagram.