The Unclaimed Baggage Center (UBC) in Scottsboro, Jackson County, is the only business in the nation that purchases unclaimed baggage and cargo from major airlines. The facility then resells the merchandise in a retail store. The UBC was founded in 1970 by Doyle Owens, a native of Fyffe, DeKalb County, and his wife, Susan.
At first the couple worked part-time buying and reselling unclaimed baggage from bus companies, but soon Doyle was making trips to Atlanta, Georgia, to purchase airline baggage from Eastern Airlines, National Airlines, and Air Florida. The Owenses then focused full time on UBC after the business was incorporated in 1978.
The business finds its inventory in unclaimed bags, items left on planes, and unclaimed air cargo. Airlines generally hold unclaimed luggage for at least 90 days and up to 120 days while trying to locate the owner, and some compensate passengers for mishandled luggage. If the airlines do not find the owners, parcels are warehoused and sold. Less than one percent of passengers file mishandled or lost baggage reports, but with annual airline traffic exceeding 700 million passengers per year, there is still a significant amount of unclaimed baggage.
UBC buys the luggage by the pound and receives more than 20,000 items a day. The 40,000-square-foot store displays roughly 7,000 items per day on any given day. The business discards roughly one third of the items, donates another third to charity, and offers the rest for sale. More than half of the inventory is clothing, which is cleaned and prepared for sale at one of Alabama's largest laundry facilities, owned and operated by UBC. The remaining items range from electronics to skis to wedding dresses and, in one case, a suit of armor. Luggage itself is not a large portion of the inventory, as it often arrives worn or damaged. Each year, more than one million shoppers visit the store, which has become a top tourist destination in the state.
In 1995 the store passed to Bryan Owens, the founders' son, and under his direction the business's exposure has increased. UBC has been featured on such television programs as "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "The Late Show with David Letterman," and "Good Morning America." The store has a promotional Web site displaying samples of its wares, but it does not provide online shopping services because of the constantly changing inventory. A UBC outlet store also is located in Boaz (located partially in Marshall and Etowah counties), roughly 40 miles south of Scottsboro.