Northeast Times

Now accepting bitcoin

Are the River Wards be­com­ing a hot­spot for vir­tu­al cur­rency?

  • Rich Godwin, 24, of Cherry Hill, scans a QR code with his smartphone to make a purchase with bitcoin at Philadelphia Brewing Company in East Kensington on Saturday. ALI EAVES / STAR PHOTO

  • Derrick J. Freeman, of East Kensington, uses an app on his smartphone to purchase bitcoin from Jason Diluzio, 34, of Fishtown, at the bitcoin meetup at the Philadelphia Brewing Company in East Kensington on Saturday. ALI EAVES / STAR PHOTOS

  • Artist Samantha Gurry used bitcoin to purchase a case of beer and cider from the Philadelphia Brewing Company in East Kensington on Saturday. ALI EAVES / STAR PHOTOS

  • Philadelphia Brewing Company in East Kensington displays an orange bitcoin sticker at the checkout counter alongside the typical Visa, MasterCard and Discover stickers. ALI EAVES / STAR PHOTO

On Sat­urday, the re­tail shop at Phil­adelphia Brew­ing Com­pany in East Kens­ing­ton was bust­ling with cus­tom­ers who came for one reas­on: to spend bit­coin.

Bit­coin, a vir­tu­al form of cur­rency, used to be ac­cep­ted for pur­chases mostly by on­line mer­chants, but in re­cent months, more brick-and-mor­tar busi­nesses in Phil­adelphia—es­pe­cially in the River Wards-—are start­ing to em­brace the tech­no­logy.

In early Janu­ary, Phil­adelphia Brew­ing Com­pany be­came the first brew­ery in the na­tion to do busi­ness with bit­coin.

About 20 busi­nesses in the city ac­cept bit­coin, ac­cord­ing to coin­map.org, and nearly half of those are in the River Wards.

The trend may be in part thanks to Fishtown res­id­ent Jason Di­Luzio, who in­tro­duced the brew­ery and oth­er loc­al mer­chants to the idea of do­ing busi­ness with bit­coin.

“It didn’t make sense for us not to do it,” said Nancy Bar­ton, a co-own­er of the brew­ing com­pany. “It’s just an­oth­er op­tion of pay­ment.”

Bit­coin has been called “gold for nerds.”

It was in­ven­ted in 2009 by an an­onym­ous cre­at­or. There’s a fi­nite sup­ply of bit­coins and they can be pur­chased or “mined” by us­ing soft­ware to solve math prob­lems.

It’s de­cent­ral­ized, mean­ing no gov­ern­ment or single en­tity con­trols it, and trans­ac­tions take place peer to peer, without a middle­man like a bank or cred­it card com­pany.

As of Sat­urday, one bit­coin cost $823.32, ac­cord­ing to coin­base.com. One year earli­er, it was worth $20.50.

To do busi­ness with bit­coin, Phil­adelphia Brew­ing Com­pany uses a pay­ment pro­cessor called Bit­Pay. To make a pur­chase, the cus­tom­er scans a QR code on the brew­ery’s com­puter with his or her smart­phone.

The money is in­stantly con­ver­ted in­to U.S. dol­lars and de­pos­ited in­to the brew­ing com­pany’s bank ac­count for a 1 per­cent fee. (Cred­it card com­pan­ies charge the brew­ery 3 to 4 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Bar­ton.)

“It’s kind of weird to get your head around be­cause you’re not touch­ing any­thing,” Bar­ton said. “But then it shows up in the bank, so it’s pretty neat.”

There may not be many people us­ing bit­coin yet—there are about 100 people in Bit­coin­PHL, a meetup group—but the group is pas­sion­ate and grow­ing.

They have ar­ranged “bit­mobs” where they show up in a group to buy things from a loc­al busi­ness that ac­cepts bit­coin.

On Sat­urday, Phil­adelphia Brew­ing Com­pany cleared al­most 20 bit­coin trans­ac­tions, total­ing $421. Many of those trans­ac­tions were from new cus­tom­ers.

At the brew­ery on Sat­urday, Di­Luzio said Phil­adelphia could be­come the Sil­ic­on Val­ley of bit­coin. The meetup group or­gan­ized in the fall, he said, and that got the ball rolling.

“There’s this net­work ef­fect,” he said. “The more busi­nesses ac­cept bit­coin, that will en­cour­age oth­er busi­nesses to ac­cept bit­coin.”

Oth­er busi­nesses in the River Wards where cus­tom­ers can spend bit­coin in­clude High­er Grounds Caf&ea­cute; in North­ern Liber­ties; Street Glit­ter Gal­lery, Pizzer­ia Bed­dia and Peri­phery Gal­lery in Fishtown; Chap­pelle Gui­tars and Gear­forms: In­dus­tri­al Amer­ic­ana & Sal­vage Co. in East Kens­ing­ton; and Nor­man Port­er Jeans just west of Fishtown. You can also buy real es­tate prop­er­ties in the area with bit­coin at Bit­coin­Props.com.

Di­Luzio and Kristov At­las, an­oth­er mem­ber of Bit­coin­PHL and the au­thor of An­onym­ous Bit­coin: How to Keep All of  Your Bit­coins to Your­self, both said they think that bit­coin is on its way to the main­stream.

“A couple years from now, the ques­tion of who should use bit­coin will be silly,” At­las said. “Every­one will be us­ing bit­coin.”

At the brew­ery’s check­out counter on Sat­urday, while some people waited in line to spend their bit­coin, oth­ers ex­pressed sur­prise and asked what it was.

Rich God­win, 24, of Cherry Hill, used bit­coin to buy a case of beer and two pint glasses. He also re­cently bought a hand-made hol­low body elec­tric gui­tar with bit­coin at Chap­pelle Gui­tars.

“I do think we’re at a tip­ping point,” he said. “I think people are al­ways skep­tic­al and un­will­ing to change, but I’ve real­ized I’d rather em­brace it than sit in the back­seat. This is just the be­gin­ning.”

You can reach at aeaves@bsmphilly.com.

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