Lost Luggage Becomes Found Treasure

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and for millions of Americans that means flying to celebrate with family and friends. But for some unlucky travelers it also means lost luggage.

Last year, 2.8 million bags were lost by airlines. And if no one shows up to claim that lost luggage, it ends up in what could be called one the nation's largest lost and founds -- the Unclaimed Baggage Center, or UBC, in Scottsboro, Ala.

"We are the final resting place for lost luggage that comes from around the world," explained Bryan Owens, the center's chief executive officer.

Treasure Chest

The center is a one-of-a kind retail grab bag of once-owned, presently unclaimed, occasionally valuable and frequently fascinating merchandise.

Palm Pilots, Burberry scarves, Ralph Lauren sunglasses and, of course, luggage, are all available at discount prices.

One of the store's enthusiastic regular customers said the store houses "lots of treasures. You just never know. You really need to come every day. Sometimes twice a day."

Owens sees the center as a kind of living time capsule.

"It's an archaeological dig," he said. "You open up a bag and you get a cross-section of what's going on in society."

UBC is the kind of place where, as one shopper found out, you can get a $12,000 ring for $4,000.

"If I'm out of town and people ask me where I got my ring and I say 'unclaimed baggage,' they can't believe it," the shopper said.

Whether you're looking for jewelry, electronic gadgets or the latest fashions, you'll probably find it among the 7,000 new items brought to the store every day. It's all courtesy of suitcases that the major airlines claim cannot be reunited with their owners.

The airlines attempt to contact the lost bags' owners for 90 days. If no one claims the lost luggage, it's shipped to the UBC, where the bags are opened and their contents are dry-cleaned and catalogued.

Part of what attracts shoppers to the center is that customers never quite know what they'll find. Over the 34 years that the UBC has been in business, there have been plenty of one-of-a-kind finds.

"We found a six-carat ring in a sock once," said Owens. "Once we got a bag with ancient, Egyptian artifacts."

All in the Family

Owens' father opened the store over three decades ago.

"My father, Doyle Owens, started the UCB in 1970 as a part-time venture," Owens recalled. "He started with a $300 loan and a borrowed pickup truck and was off to get his first load of lost bags"

From that humble beginning, the UBC has grown into a 50,000-square-foot operation and an institution.

More than 1 million items roll out of suitcases and into the center every year. It's no wonder that bargain hunters by the hundreds of thousands annually head down to Scottsboro, in search of forgotten treasures.

Marysol Castro filed this piece for Good Morning America Weekend Edition.