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Sherri Richards, Published March 17 2014

Bitcoin believers: Local businesses starting to accept digital currency

WEST FARGO – You can now go bowling here for a bit of bitcoin.

Stars and Strikes bowling alley, 434 Sheyenne St., has started accepting the digital currency as a form of payment.

Owner Julie Wells said the idea was her son’s. Drew Rithmiller got into bitcoin almost a year ago, mainly as a hobby.

“He was explaining to me there was no reason I shouldn’t,” Wells said.

“The fees are lower than credit cards,” Rithmiller said. “If no one uses bitcoin, it doesn’t cost her any money.”

Using a service such as Coinbase or BitPay to automatically convert the bitcoin into cash eliminates the risk of theft, loss or devaluation, he said.

Here’s how it works:

Using an application on an Android tablet computer, Wells types in the amount owed. The app produces a QR code that the customer scans on his or her phone. The customer verifies the amount, and in less than a minute the bitcoin has been converted and the money is deposited in Wells’ bank account, Rithmiller said.

Bitcoin, created in 2009, is a digital currency created and exchanged independent of banks or governments.

It’s kind of like gold: There is a finite amount in existence (21 million total), and they can be bought, sold and “mined,” or discovered, by running certain software.

The value of a bitcoin varies based on online trading. On Monday morning, Bitcoin’s selling price was $624.48, according to Coinbase.com.

Bitcoin’s reputation took a hit recently after Mt. Gox, once a dominant bitcoin exchange, lost about 850,000 bitcoins, valued at more than $470 million. Enthusiasts say that was a problem with the exchange, not the currency itself.

Major online retailer Overstock.com now takes bitcoin for payment, and more local businesses around the country are starting to accept bitcoin. Online maps like coinmap.org show their location.

MELD Workshop, a Fargo shop where members can use 3-D printers, laser cutters or other tools, started accepting bitcoin a couple of months after opening last October.

“Some of the people that come to MELD, they’re the same type of people who would be interested in bitcoin,” said owner John Schneider. “I’ve had a few people who found our business as a result of accepting bitcoin.”

He said the other benefit is the lower processing fee compared to that of credit cards or other payment methods, including PayPal.

He’s had customers pay for a membership, buy electronic parts and pay for a class with bitcoin.

“Bitcoin’s real value is being able to quickly and inexpensively transfer value,” Schneider said. “It’s getting quite a bit more user-friendly to be accepting bitcoin.”

Wells doesn’t expect to do a lot of bitcoin transactions at the bowling alley, at least not right away.

“I think there’s some growth that needs to be done. I think eventually there will be a digital currency. If it’s this or something else, I’m not sure,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum Business Editor

Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556