Nashville

We Go Beyond the Music for a Look at Nashville’s Shopping Scene

Some travel to Nashville for the music. Stylist, Truc Nguyen goes for the thrill of the hunt at Unclaimed Baggage Centre.

It all started with a pair of Givenchy rubber slides. In the winter, my best friend messaged me a photo of the black logo sandals, asking if I wanted to buy them for $99 U.S. She was shopping at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Ala., where the in-season shoes were being sold for less than a third of the retail price. I agonized for a few minutes and then passed on the purchase (they were one size too big), but the possibility of a designer steal put the wheels in motion for my pilgrimage to the baggage depot just two hours outside Nashville.

That’s not to say Nashville itself wouldn’t have been enough. Yes, live music is still the big draw, but at least some of the record-breaking 13.9 million visitors to the city in 2016 ventured beyond the honky-tonks and the Grand Ole Opry to eat Mexican paletas in 12South or try on Queen Bey-approved jackets in East Nashville.

Dev and Rachel’s first date in season one of Master of None aside, Nashville’s hot reputation has been helped by the TV show of the same name as well as buzzy articles in The New York Times, Business of Fashion and Vogue. Fashion friends have raved about vintage stores like Local Honey and Pre to Post Modern, but it was the calibre and variety of Nashville’s independent boutiques that I found most impressive. I could have spent entire afternoons perusing the delicate jewellery at Consider the Wldflwrs, the spectacular sundries at White’s Mercantile and the elegant pottery and furnishings at Wilder.

Nashville
Consider the Wldflwrs. Photography by Kelsey Cherry.

The sense of camaraderie and supportive relationships among the many creative types and entrepreneurs was palpable. At Poppy & Monroe, a salon and wellness shop in Germantown, you can get a mani with local product Aila polish and walk out with a Ceri Hoover leather bag; both brands have devoted hometown followings.

Nashville
Poppy & Munroe. Photography by Blu Sanders.

“Last night, I went to Porter Flea [at Skyway Studios in East Nashville],” says designer and Project Runway alum Amanda Valentine during a studio visit. “When those markets with a lot of local designers happen, I love to do my shopping for the season. Every day, I could be wearing something made by someone I know—that’s pretty cool.”

But I also wanted some designer souvenirs and found that the best shopping happens at United Apparel Liquidators, a Nashville-based chain that Racked calls a best-kept secret for bargain-hunting fashionistas. Half of the southern chain’s six locations are in Nashville’s metropolitan area, and I spent hours happily trying on everything I could—from lacy Rodarte gowns to Creatures of the Wind shoes—my heart beating at the thrill of the hunt and the promise of multiple markdowns. I left (very reluctantly) with only Bobo Choses shorts for my daughter and a handful of $5 Edith A. Miller knits.

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Photography via Instagram/@ShopUAL

On the last day of my trip, I finally made my way to the 3,700-square-metre Unclaimed Baggage Center, which offers the contents of lost luggage at 20 to 80 per cent off suggested retail prices and at­tracts almost a million visitors a year. “We are different from any other retailer in the country,” says the centre’s Brenda O. Cantrell. “It’s an escape. It’s a curiosity. It’s a bargain hunt. We’re not a ‘have to shop’ store; we’re a ‘want to shop’ store.”

Reportedly the only such concept store in the United States, it got its start in 1970 when founder Doyle Owens bought a truck full of unclaimed bags from a Washington, D.C., friend who worked at the Trailways bus company. The centre now has agreements with major airlines, who send their unclaimed freight cargo and suitcases—following a 90-day waiting period—in bulk to Scottsboro to be sorted for sale, donated to charity or disposed of. About a third of all the merchandise that arrives is diverted to the centre’s “Reclaimed for Good” program, which shares it with organizations like the Salvation Army and Medical Mission Aid.

I spotted everything from sunglasses (starting at $5 and with a limit of three pairs per customer) to fishing equipment and electronics on the sales floor, but the most luxurious looks are kept behind a counter near the main entrance: Fendi bags and Cartier watches are mixed in with thousands of pieces of vintage and costume jewellery. While I was slightly disappointed with the prices (a gently used Fendi bag was still $1,000), they are generally comparable to what you might expect at an outlet mall or other off-price retailers. In the end, I did leave with one purchase: a pair of Vince leather slides in my size for $8.29. Mission accomplished.