5:00am

Mon February 3, 2014
Digital Life

Once I Get My Hands On Some Bitcoin, What Happens Next?

As brick-and-mortar stories quickly adopt digital currency, “Bitcoin, cash or credit?” could become the new mantra of cashiers and baristas everywhere. Once I figure out how to get my hands on some virtual coin, then comes the fun part.

Grace Hood tries to find and spend some Bitcoin for Morning Edition

I’ll have to spend it.

In this case I’m in search of Bitcoins. We’ll leave the Dogecoins, Litecoins, and other cryptocurrencies out of this. You can pay dollars for Bitcoin — just like you’d exchange dollars for Euros or Pounds.

The exchange rate is high, but it’s not insurmountable. You can buy a fraction of a Bitcoin. In 2013, one Bitcoin was worth as little as $13. Then the cost shot up over $1,000. That volatility is a disadvantage; businesses compensate either by converting to dollars or staying in pure Bitcoin to ride the market out.

Setting up a digital wallet account is easy enough. My choice was Coinbase, among the many virtual wallets. The hitch was real world banking. I belong to a smaller credit union so it will take at least 24 hours to verify my checking account.

Once you have a virtual wallet there's another hurdle. Surprisingly, it takes between one to four days for the exchange transaction to complete. That's why some Bitcoin traders jokingly refer to themselves as “week traders” instead of “day traders."

So where should I spend my Bitcoin after I get it? Coinmap is a handy way to find an actual real physical place interested in taking your virtual dough.

Double Half Caff. Mocha With Whip

At Alleycat Coffee House near Colorado State University in Fort Collins, over a dozen customers have used Bitcoin. All that spending totals up to about $100 by owner Mark Williams' reckoning.

The appeal is two fold. It costs very little to setup and Williams likes the idea of sticking it to the credit card companies.

Credit Grace Hood / KUNC

“Their fees are so outrageous,” said Williams. “It’s nothing for us to run a thousand dollars a month in credit card fees. And so Bitcoin offers an alternative that doesn't have all those costs associated.”

Payment by Bitcoin isn't heavily advertised at Alleycat Coffee House, save for one sign near the register. You probably wouldn't even know it was an option unless you were looking for it.

‘Filler Up

At the Cosmic Market in Greeley, there’s no question that Bitcoin is accepted. A large poster featured in one of its windows says “Take The Power Back! Let The Banks Eat Cake!”

Owner Shahzad Sarwar said he was one of the first gas stations in the country to accept Bitcoin. So far only a dozen customers have used Bitcoin since he started offering the option in late December.

Owner Shahzad Sarwar stands in front of the Cosmic Market in Greeley.
Credit Grace Hood / KUNC

A computer programmer by day, he says working with the online currency just makes sense.

“I’m always into new technology, new things,” said Sarwar. “What I really like about it is the reliable transfer of money between one person and another.”

A Flea Collar For Fido?

On the other side of Greeley, at Sheep Draw Veterinary Hospital, owner and veterinarian Roger Klingenberg hasn’t yet had to decide what to do with his Bitcoin. That’s because he’s seen zero purchases in Bitcoin.

Aside from a website mention, Sheep Draw doesn’t heavily advertise Bitcoin payments.

“We don’t anticipate anything soon, we just want to be set up,” said Klingenberg.

Rather than fighting banks or fees, Klingenberg decided to start accepting the currency because his son and wife are passionate about Bitcoin. He likes the idea of offering different options, but as far as advertising it?

“I don’t think it would do a lot of good," said Klingenberg. "I think our average client would say. 'Well, you take Bitcoin, so what?' ”

Very soon, my virtual wallet will be precisely .025 Bitcoins heavier. Where should I spend it? Tweet me @GraceHood or leave suggestions in the comments below.

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