A gem of North Alabama: Unclaimed Baggage celebrates 50th anniversary

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Unclaimed Baggage in Scottsboro is celebrating its 50th anniversary with the launch of its belated “50 years, 50 states” road tour. (Unclaimed Baggage via Facebook)

What started as a hidden gem in North Alabama turned in to a major tourist destination for the entire state, as Unclaimed Baggage in Scottsboro became one of the most popular shopping destinations in the southeast.

Now, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the nation’s only retailer of lost luggage, Unclaimed Baggage is emerging from the pandemic with a one-of-a-kind online store and a launch of its belated “50 years, 50 states” road tour.

From hidden gem to major tourist attraction

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Unclaimed Baggage started receiving national attention about 30 years ago. (Unclaimed Baggage via Facebook)

Here is how it all started: North Alabama native and third-generation entrepreneur Doyle Owens, using a borrowed pickup truck and a $300 loan, headed up to Washington D.C. and bought his first load of unclaimed baggage from Trailways Bus Line. He then sold the contents on card tables in an old rented house.

With his family’s blessing, he left his full-time insurance job, and Unclaimed Baggage Center was born.

In 1995, Doyle’s son Bryan and his wife Sharon purchased the business and began a remodel project that expanded Unclaimed Baggage to cover more than a city block. The business added a cafe and a Museum of Found Treasures, making it a true shopping and tourist destination.

And around that time, publications such as Rolling Stone magazine, Esquire, Wall Street Journal and the New York Times wrote about Unclaimed Baggage, giving it more notoriety. And when Oprah Winfrey touted the store on her show as one of America’s “best-kept shopping secrets,” well, it wasn’t a secret anymore.

’50 years, 50 states’ Road Tour

UBC Truck Unclaimed Baggage
The original 1965 Chevy truck that carried the first load of unclaimed bags in 1970 hits the road the celebrate 50 years. (PR Newswire)

While the pandemic caused Unclaimed Baggage to temporarily close its doors for the first time in 50 years, it was also the catalyst for a one-of-a-kind ecommerce platform that has attracted more than 5.5 million visitors and counting.

Coming out of the pandemic, Unclaimed Baggage is seeing online and foot traffic surge. The retailer is also readying to launch its long-planned celebratory “50 years, 50 states” road tour, which was initially scheduled for March 2020. The tour began May 6, and will include all 50 states over the span of 14 weeks, surprising and delighting fans with games, prizes and experiences unique to Unclaimed Baggage.

Over the course of the tour, “Hugo” — the restored 1965 Chevrolet truck named after Unclaimed Baggage’s founder — will be seen all over the U.S. posing with some of the country’s most iconic and unusual roadside attractions. Tour stops will feature a range of experiences, including The Museum of Oddities; virtual pop-up shops; and fan-favorite games, such as Finders Keepers and Bag Openings, where customers see firsthand what it’s like to sort through an unclaimed bag.

“It’s amazing to see how even here, in Scottsboro, Alabama, Unclaimed Baggage could grow into an international tourist destination. It all started with my father’s big idea, a borrowed pickup truck and a $300 loan to go to Washington, D.C. and buy his first load of unclaimed bags from Trailways Bus Line. Fifty years after that fateful trip, we decided to bring the Unclaimed Baggage experience online and make our unique offering of found treasures accessible to people everywhere, anytime. We look forward to bringing our story on the road and engaging with our fans in their hometowns.”

Bryan Owens, owner of Unclaimed Baggage
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Unclaimed Baggage Center’s first stop in its tour was Washington, DC. (Unclaimed Baggage vis Facebook)

As part of the road tour, Unclaimed Baggage will make donations at nonprofit organizations along the way. Examples of Reclaimed for Good at work include a partnership with Lions Club International Foundation’s SightFirst program, where Unclaimed Baggage serves as the number one provider of eyeglasses with over one million pairs donated over the last 30 years.

You can track the road tour’s progress by following #50years50states on social media.

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Michael Seale
Michael Seale
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