If you have never heard of a “Bitcoin,” you are not alone. Even though the digital currency continues to get a lot of attention around the world, it’s been slow to catch on in most pockets of the US, including North Carolina.
But that may be about to change in the Triangle.
There is one brick and mortar business in the Triangle that accepts Bitcoin., and that’s Rise Biscuits and Donuts in Durham.
“Folks I’ve got some hot, some donut holes up here. Help yourselves while you’re waiting," yells Rise Assistant Manager Darryl Fuller on an especially busy Sunday morning.
To be honest, the line isn’t wrapped around the room and out the door with people trying to use their Bitcoins. It’s the biscuits, pigs in a blanket, hash cakes and fresh donuts.
Dave Piercey just placed his order. He and friends stopped at Rise to sort of, celebrate.
“I’m actually moving to New York today. So this is my last meal in North Carolina before I leave," said Piercey. He bought a chicken biscuit, with American cheese, one hash cake and one crème brule. His order came to $9.41.
But like many people who’ve been hearing bits and pieces about Bitcoin in the news, Piercey is skeptical about the digital currency.
“It kind of scares me a little bit just because it’s so unregulated. Especially because I heard recently apparently a Bitcoin area got like hacked or something. I was like, I don’t know if I want my money just being hacked like that. It just feels very unsafe for me personally. I don’t know," said Piercey.
How it works
Piercey might not know much about Bitcoin, virtual wallets or crypto-currency, but Tom Ferguson does. He’s the owner of Rise Biscuits and Donuts, which started accepting Bitcoin last month. Ferguson has a separate tablet at the register for customers paying with Bitcoin. The virtual money is transferred via barcode.
“We ring this up and we would put in here, say $5," said Ferguson, demonstrating a Bitcoin transaction. "Then we go to request payment. And then they take their phone, point it toward it and take a picture and then they accept the transaction and it’s complete.”
Ferguson says Rise has processed about 40 Bitcoin transactions so far.
"I love it, I love it because the technology has the possibility of taking the middle man out, which is the banks today," said Ferguson.
Ferguson says on a credit card charge, he pays 2.75 percent. On a Bitcoin transaction, he pays nothing – except for the one percent fee to transfer the Bitcoin payment to dollars at the end of the day. Customers are paying in percentages. The value of one Bitcoin is going for about $600, according to Coinbase.com.
“I think that this is the revolution for the system in the way we take money in the future. I really believe in it," said Ferguson.
Ferguson believes in Bitcoin so much, he recently increased the minimum wage of his hourly workers to $10.10 an hour – a move being pushed by the Obama Administration.
North Carolina has been slower to embrace Bitcoin than several other places across the country and around the world.
But now, there is a Triangle Bitcoin Meetup. Brad Wheeler, a Ph.D student in Public Health at UNC, helped start the group.
“It’s grown by leaps and bounds," said Brad Wheeler. "We started with maybe 20 people or so and now we have 113 as of today who are members of the Triangle Bitcoin Meet-up on Meetup.com.”
Wheeler has used his Bitcoin virtual wallet to purchase coffee, computer software and he’s donated money to a homeless outreach organization in Florida. Oh, and he’s bought donuts at Rise.
Wheeler says the barriers to using Bitcoin are decreasing every day.
“I feel like this technology is so interesting and so disruptive that even the institutions we normally do business with, like our larger banking institutions, our payment institutions might start adopting this in some way. Not exactly sure how," said Wheeler.
That’s still way up in the air. Financial experts recognize the growth of the virtual currency concept and the benefit of Bitcoin in retailing. But today, it’s not a reliable store of value – extremely volatile. The value of one Bitcoin has topped $1,000, before significantly falling.
If you want to know what businesses accept Bitcoin around the world – check out coinmap.org.