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Scottsboro, Alabama

Home of
The Unclaimed Baggage Center
And Other Cool Stuff


by Anna Collins
photos by Anna Collins

Scottsboro, Alabama is like walking into a Norman Rockwell painting; small-town Americana that's just overflowing with charm and hospitality. Nestled in the hills of the Appalachian Mountains, and surrounded by 70,000-acre Lake Guntersville, the town still looks pretty much like it did in the 1950's. There's an unmistakable feel of nostalgia here that makes you long for "the good old days".

My traveling companion Carol and I, found the residents of Scottsboro (the county seat of Jackson County) to be some of the most gracious and helpful people we've encountered on any of our trips writing this column. In fact, they impressed me so much, I momentarily considered raising their population from 15,000 to 15,001!

Why was I here? Well, I recently lost my suitcase on a trip back from Boston. First time ever. The airline never found it and eventually I was compensated for my loss. But still...I wondered...where did it go? What happened to the contents? It gnawed at me--after all--lost baggage had to go somewhere.

That's when I found out about the Unclaimed Baggage Center, in Scottsboro, Alabama; a place where lost baggage finds its "final destination". A veritable treasure chest of lost items, the UBC is the place where many unclaimed bags, cargo and sometimes even fine arts and collectibles go, after they've been deemed unclaimed.

I decided to pay a visit to Unclaimed Baggage Center, a 33,000 square foot shopaholic's dream come true.

A little background music


First of all, the Unclaimed Baggage Center is Northern Alabama's most popular tourist attraction--even more than the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in nearby Hunstville. UBC attracts 800,00 visitors a year, as opposed to 350,000 visitors by the Space Center.

The UBC was founded in 1970 by Sue and Doyle Owens. Bryan Owens, Doyle's son, who now heads the company, is the developer of a patented software package that helps airlines track lost baggage. Through the UBC, Owens offers the airlines a chance to get those unclaimed bags off their hands. The search process of trying to reunite the lost bags with their owners can take up to 90 days. After that, the lost bags are held by the airlines approximately 100 days before they become available to the UBC. Then it's shopping time!

What do they have?

Anything that can be packed and lost, basically! The store is set up in an organized manner, much like a regular retail department store; the women's section, the men's section, children's, etc. There's also a jewelry department, a shoe department and various other areas dedicated to electronics, toys and yes, baggage. Recently, they've added a Lost Cargo department where anything from boxes of shampoo to typewriter ribbons can turn up.

7,000 new items are circulated into the store randomly throughout the day. The shopping carts are specialized double deckers that economize space in the aisles, but still hold plenty of items. Although it's all interesting, a few things will really catch your eye. For starters, how about a 40.95 carat emerald (available at the time this article was published) or a pair of Georgio Armani or DKNY sunglasses? Maybe a surfboard strikes your fancy? (You wonder, how can anybody lose a surfboard!)

About 60% of the items in stock are clothing, followed by jewelry, sporting goods, toys, camera equipment and various miscellaneous items ranging anywhere from movie props to computers. The items are sold at 50% to 80% off the manufacturer's suggested retail price. And if you're a savvy brand name shopper, you'll find plenty of brand names here, at unheard of prices!

I, the Shoe Queen, saw a fabulous pair of brand new Kenneth Cole Mary Jane's (retail: $175) for a tempting $66. Do I get those or the gold Mootsie's Tootsie's for $19.50? Then I saw a pair of Skechers for $27.00! What's a shoe addict to do? Buy 'em all!

Shoes aren't the only great bargains here. In the ladies' section, there are racks of fashionable clothing ranging from long dresses to miniskirts to underwear and accessories. Most of the stuff is used, but a fair amount is brand new. I purchased a Harold's skirt, brand new with tags, that retailed for $68, selling at UBC price for $10. I paired it up with the same brand sleeveless shirt, new with tags, retailing for $48, selling at UBC price of $10. So I purchased a $116 outfit, for $20. That's 83% off the original price. Not bad, for brand new snappy outfit.

A great story...

I asked Terry Biel, the Senior Director of Marketing, to tell me her most unusual UBC story. It sounded like a Weird Tales story.

It turns out, a few years ago, a newlywed businessman traveling through Scottsboro, made a stop at the UBC. While perusing the sporting goods department, he found a pair of ladies' ski boots he thought his new wife would love and to his delight, they were her size. When he got home, he presented his wife with the boots. As he expected, his wife was very pleased with the gift. But after she examined the ski boots more closely, she began to feel a sense of familiarity about them. She then pulled up the front flap of the boots and examined the area underneath. There, underneath the flap, was her maiden name where she had written it, when she first purchased the boots. The boots were indeed hers and had been lost 18 months earlier with her baggage!

Wait! There's more!


A special point of interest is the UBC Museum where some of the more unusual and valuable unclaimed items are on display, but not for sale. For instance, there's the spooky Hoggle from the 1986 movie, Labyrinth and a cowboy hat autographed by Mohammed Ali. Also included are a collection of bonnets from the 1800's and some priceless Egyptian artifacts.

And when you get tired looking at the hundreds of items, take a break at CUPS, the in-store cafe that serves up soups, salads, sandwiches, gourmet desserts and freshly brewed Starbucks coffee. There's also a children's video area in there to

occupy the tots.

So what are you waiting for? Gather ye cash and credit cards and pay them a visit! You won't be sorry!

Unclaimed Baggage Center, 509 W. Willow St., Scottsboro, AL 35768, Tel: 205/259-1525. Open Mon-Thurs 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Fri-Sat 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. Closed Sundays. Website:www.unclaimedbaggage.com

First Monday Trade Days

There are plenty of other things to do in Scottsboro, but there is another shopping event I must mention before we move on to hunting, fishing and boating. It's called First Monday Trade Days.

For over 100 years, the residents of Scottsboro and neighboring towns have come together for "trade days", two days of bartering, haggling, swapping and trading of goods. The event takes place the Saturday and Sunday, preceding the first Monday of each month. It's held in and around the courthouse square, where originally, First Monday was the day that the Jackson County Circuit Court was held in the mid 1850's. The whole thing is a blend of antiques, yard sale items, arts and crafts and some darn good lemonade stands! I purchased a large glass Skippy peanut butter jar from the 1960's for $6 and old Mrs. Butterworth syrup bottle for 25 cents.

Tom Stills, a vendor from a nearby town, sells ceramic angels and has been coming here for a couple of years. "I like it fine," says Stills, "I enjoy the people and the whole atmosphere." Stills also sells Dale Earnhardt Coke bottles for $3 a 6 pack.

You said there are other Scottsboro Attractions besides shopping...

Yes, there's plenty!

Fishing and boating

Fishing enthusiasts will have the time of their lines fishing on the Tennessee River or the majestic Lake Guntersville. Local freshwater fish include crappie, bass, and beam. Many marinas in the area offer boat rentals, fishing licenses and fuel. Lake Guntersville is one of the top bass lakes in the Southeast and has been the site of the National BASS Masters' Tournament. The lake is also perfect for recreational boating; there's 69,000 acres of clear blue mountain lake water to cruise around on.

Hunting

Jackson County is a fertile hunting ground where hunters are allowed a buck a day making this a popular place for the discerning hunter. Duck and whitetail deer are the draw in the fall. There's a wide variety of small game here too, including dove, quail, squirrel, rabbit, and turkey. Hunting is available on public land and also through private hunting clubs.

Stevenson Depot

During the Civil War the Stevenson Depot was a stronghold, today it's a popular stop for a journey through history. In June, the city brings back the days when the Depot was a major stop for weary travelers. There are reenactment activities focused around the Depot which include wagon trains to nearby Fort Harker as well as storytelling, parades and square dancing.

Some great local dining

Crawdaddy's Too Steak and seafood. Rated one of the area's best. Located on the edge of Lake Guntersville in Goosepond Colony. The atmosphere is fun and relaxed. Wed-Sat 4:30 p.m.-10:00 p.m. Tel: 256/574-3071.

Liberty Restaurant Home cooking at its finest! Features 3-4 meat selections and 6-8 vegetables per day. Mon-Thurs 6:00 a.m. - 7:30 p.m., Fri-Sat 6:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. Tel:256/574-3455.

Triple R BBQ Exemplary pork and chicken BBQ and delicious catfish. Mon-10:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m.,Tues-Sat 10:30 a.m. - 8:00 p.m., Closed Sunday. Tel: 256/574-1620.

General consensus: The little town of Scottsboro, Alabama, taught me a lesson: Little towns hold big surprises; you just have to have an open mind and heart to see them!

For more information on Scottsboro, Alabama
call the Scottsboro/Jackson County Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-259-5508.

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