The Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Ala., has intrigued me for as long as I've known about it — and that's a long time. The store got its start selling merchandise on a few card tables in the 1970s and began getting media attention for its unusual business model in the 1990s. "The Oprah Winfrey Show" vaulted it to star status in 1995.
As the name implies, the sprawling store sells off items fliers have left behind — or the airlines and other transportation companies have failed to reunite with their owners. Gucci sunglasses, Rolex watches, diamond rings that had been tucked away in socks, enough books to fill a library.
Yet, even when I lived relatively nearby, in Birmingham, I couldn't bring myself to make the two-hour drive to pick over other people's losses.
A great designer dress for a fraction of the retail price seems enticing. But I wondered how long it would take to wash away the idea that someone else, somewhere in the world, was missing that particular piece of clothing. I didn't want to gain from other people's misfortune (even though they are ultimately reimbursed for their loss by airlines).
But that downer mind-set can now be countered with a happier thought: The Unclaimed Baggage Center has a program called Reclaimed for Good. The company sends medical supplies to developing countries, including once-broken wheelchairs that have been rebuilt. Suitcases are painted in cheerful colors — and dubbed "luv luggage" — and given to children moving to a new home in the foster care system. Eyeglasses go to the Lions Club Sight First program. Nearly one-third of the item purchases from airlines are donated to Reclaimed for Good.
The Unclaimed Baggage Center, in northeastern Alabama, is near Chattanooga, Tenn., a two-hour drive from Birmingham and three hours from Atlanta and Nashville (unclaimedbaggage.com).
Send your questions or tips to Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.