An "unclaimed mail" store in Evansville, Indiana, recently went viral on TikTok.
I decided to check the store out for myself.
The shopping experience involved a lot of hunting and zero treasure.
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Modern-day consumers and the cackling, cutlass-swinging pirates of popular folklore have one key trait in common: they both love a treasure hunt. That premise is baked into layout strategies for plenty of major companies, including Costco, Target, and TJ Maxx. But other retailers take it a step further than that.
A viral TikTok video showcased a store in Evansville, Indiana, with a business model completely centered around the premise of the "treasure hunt." The store is even named Treasure Hunt. In the footage, the store appears to sell unclaimed mail, with numerous packages still bearing intended mail addresses. TikTok user Addison Hearrin filmed herself rifling through a number of unopened packages in the store, ultimately selecting five. She said she obtained a number of Nike and Louis Vuitton products for a steeply discounted price. Insider's attempts to reach Hearrin were unsuccessful.
Mail that can't be delivered or returned gets sent to the USPS Mail Recovery Center. According to the USPS website, the MRC will sometimes "auction off the items held" in lots. The United States Postal Service could not confirm that Treasure Hunt is hawking unclaimed mail, however.
"There is no way to tell from the video if all the packages in the store or the purchased packages were handled by the United States Postal Service (USPS)," a spokesperson for USPS told Insider in a statement. "Other carriers (FedEx and UPS) have their own protocols when dealing with undeliverable items."
To get the inside story on Treasure Hunt, I decided to head down to Evansville and check it out for myself.
I live in Indianapolis, around three hours away from Evansville. My husband and I made the trek to the Crescent City together, eager to get our hands on untold treasures.
As we got closer, we noticed a number of discount and thrift stores around Evansville. I later found out that the owners of Treasure Hunt also run several similar operations in the area.
After hours of driving, we finally pulled into a strip mall. Treasure Hunt's storefront was unassuming, with its price schedule helpfully posted out upfront.
Inside, the store was pretty bare bones, with a number of aisles of wooden troughs. These structures contained everything from food to apparel to unclaimed parcels.
True to its name, the store maintains a theme that would make any salty sea dog proud.
There was even a big display depicting a battle between a kraken and a buccaneer. But in terms of merchandise, what we found was more like a handful of barnacles than a chest of gleaming gold coins.
But our timing may have been to blame. The store restocks its unopened packages every Friday. The weekend is the best time to hit the store, if you're looking for choice merchandise.
We happened to arrive on a Wednesday. The pickings were pretty slim, not to mention battered, torn, and pawed-over.
The eponymous treasure hunt consists of digging through these bins for desirable buys.
I came in expecting to see tubs of still-packaged goods, but I mostly encountered loose objects.
In fact, I only came across a handful of still-packaged goods.
The few intact boxes had things like "refused," "return to sender," and "no such number" written on them.
There were quite a number of signs barring shoppers from unwrapping packages ...
... but apparently those exhortations didn't take. Almost every package we encountered had been ripped open in some fashion.
There were even loose Reese's chocolates in one bin. That was a stomach-turning sight.
I asked a worker where the inventory came from, and we overheard a number of shoppers pose the same question. No one seemed to have any answers about the origin of the inventory, which was odd.
By the time we got there, the mix was a wild jumble of odds-and-ends. Rummaging through the bins, I came across a bra ...
... a crop top from Delta Sigma Theta ...
... whatever this piece of machinery is ...
... a kit containing an Islamic prayer rug ...
... a deer antler ...
... some Breeze pads ...
... a small object that looked like an egg but was not an egg ...
... a video game controller ...
... a broken toy gun ...
... and these dental veneers.
I found this item - a stretch of fabric printed with the image of a young man. Who is he? Why did he never receive this seemingly highly-personalized product? What happened here?
I also felt guilty thinking that I might be rifling through items that someone was missing. Could a person be out there looking for their rush crop top, veneers, prayer rug, or weird-egg-thing?
Frankly, I didn't enjoy the shopping experience. I can see how a customer might enjoy browsing through packages after a fresh restock. But on the day I visited, it felt a bit like dumpster-diving.
Other areas of the store were less chaotic. The walls of the store were lined with boxes containing beverages, for those looking to buy drinks in bulk. We ended up perusing through each of the product trays, and examining the piles of boxes around the edges.
That wasn't the end of our quest, however. While in Treasure Hunt, we saw a few intriguing flyers for a sister store, one that openly touted its inventory of "lost mail, freight claims, and abandoned freight."
So we drove a few minutes away to hit up Lost Cargo, a store with the same owner as Treasure Hunt.
Lost Cargo had a significantly more spaced-out, organized shop.
This location had more high-end inventory ...
... including these Ralph Lauren dresses. There was definitely less of a "treasure hunt" aspect to the shop, but it still touted its reliance on "lost mail."
Soon enough, it was time to go home and unwrap the mystery purchases. In the viral TikTok, surprise buys included Louis Vuitton products. Would we be so lucky?
The first item appeared to be some kind of sturdy tablet case. Fine.
The second package - a big tube with two opaque, taped-up ends - contained nothing! We had bought an empty cardboard cylinder. We paid for that with our money.
The third purchase was somehow the most baffling. We looked up the return address and found that it was connected to a PO box in Rosemead, California.
Online, that PO box has been linked to a number of apparent scams. The wooden contents of the parcel did little to clear things up.
It figures that when you shop at a store with a business model that looks suspiciously like dumpster diving, you're likely to grab some garbage.
Still, I can see the appeal that the prospect of buried treasure has for many customers. And I found at least one fun, cheap knickknack in the troughs. It's not everyday that you can say that you discovered the Ark of the Covenant at a store in Evansville, Indiana.