My first crypto moment was in 2012 when I saw that my local bodega had a credit card minimum of $10, but they would accept bitcoin. It was exciting but a little confusing. Yelp hopes to change that by adding “Accepts Cryptocurrency” as a qualifier on their app. We tried it out and here’s how it went:
I logged on to Yelp to check and at least here in New York City, there are 25,000 restaurants. Only one is listed on Yelp for “Accepts Cryptocurrency.” Yelp relies on user generated content and on individual businesses updating their own listings, so it’s understandable that the new feature only has one listing so far.
The problem started when I called that very restaurant—because they don’t actually accept crypto. “We never have,” said Tom, the manager who answered the phone.
According to New York Magazine and Coinmap—not Yelp—there is a pretty good range of places that seems to accept bitcoin right here in my Brooklyn neighborhood, where I’ve lived for 15 years: a nail salon, a pizza place, two grocery stores, and a couple other restaurants. I didn’t realize that my little neighborhood was a hotbed of real world crypto trading. So let’s take a bitcoin-fueled walk around the block.
First stop is Fresh Garden, a grocery store that moved into the neighborhood and was the first to sell beer after 10 p.m. I must confess that when I was a younger, much cooler person I would have gone in here for cool things you need in your 20s, like cigarettes, condoms, and a six pack either waaaay too early in the morning or too late to be “still up.”
But now when I walk in, I’m more embarrassed to ask if they accept bitcoin than I once would have been to ask for rolling papers and rubbers. I’m embarrassed that I’m embarrassed. But now I don’t see the sign and the QR code they used to have. Since I have to ask for something I can’t find on my own, I end up waiting until the other customers walk out of earshot. Once the coast is clear I feel as if I were quietly asking the cashier for CBD lube.
On top of it, I have to explain what Bitcoin is to a cashier who doesn’t speak English. A simple transaction, even one with a credit card, doesn’t require a lot of chit-chat. But since Bitcoin lacks a single protocol, both she and I would need training to make this happen.
I seem to remember there being a BitPay interface here before, but that was long before places like Coinbase started having a frictionless, internal system for peer to peer payments. Even if they did accept bitcoin, it might take 10 minutes for the transaction to post.
Okay, so the first place is out, but I’m not giving up.
Next stop is Lean Crust, a healthy-leaning pizza joint that opened in what used to be a frozen yogurt shop. New York Magazine says that owner Daniel Sim has parents who own stores and restaurants in Brooklyn and Queens. He started accepting bitcoin in 2013. Many believe that the first true bitcoin transaction was the famous Bitcoin Pizza for 10,000 BTC in 2010, so it would be a blast if nine years later I could actually go get a slice and pay in crypto. (At the time I visited Lean Crust, that original Bitcoin Pizza was worth $54,591,675 according to the hilarious and matter of fact @bitcoin_pizza twitter bot).
However, the QR code that used to sit by the register at Lean Crust is gone too. When I went in at 11:30 on Thursday, no one working there knew how to accept bitcoin. Rumor has it that if you really, really want to pay in crypto, you can get instructions on how to text him the coin.
Fair enough. I’ll just have to go home and count out of the spare change jar if I want to get my girlfriend a slice of vegan pizza later. Lean Crust has a credit card minimum of $5. On the way out the door I notice that they do accept Union Pay, mainland China’s answer to Visa and Mastercard. I didn’t know this until I looked it up later, but they are the largest payments processor in the world (duh, China).
As I’m walking up the street I see that my next stop on the Bitcoin tour, Mirai Spa, has permanently closed. This place did fine for over 20 years. But, coincidentally, a number of old bad Yelp reviews seemed to have hindered their business.
I decide to head over to Kinjo. This was an utterly unremarkable somewhat-Japanese place that always smelled like a dirty mop and which had televisions going even though nobody came there to watch games. I broke up with a girl here once just because I knew I wouldn’t go back and thus I wouldn’t spoil a local spot. I must not be the only one who went there once and never returned, because it’s closed permanently as well. It’s now a slightly upscale Korean fried chicken place. They don’t accept crypto and the place still smells like a mophead.
My final stop is Greene Ave Market. This is where I first saw a Bitcoin terminal in the wild. Here I finally got a hold of a human being who knew what I was talking about. Manager Joe Kitano is new to the store, but he heard about the terminal. “We changed computer systems, so we couldn’t accept bitcoin anymore.”
I tell him that I’ve been trying to find a place in the neighborhood that accepts bitcoin. Once upon a time you could use it at Lean Crust, Fresh Garden, Mirai, Kinjo and—
“Oh, yeah, those were all managed by the owner’s son. Daniel Sim.” Emails and phone calls to Sim were not returned as of press time. “He was young and trying out new things. But they sold all the businesses except for Fresh Garden. I can put you in touch with him but he’s in school.”
“Oh, wow, business school?”
So in the end, my hot crypto-buying neighborhood was like a lot of things in crypto. People were excited about it briefly in December 2017, but in practice it wasn’t really worth the trouble. The person who seemed like a major player was not much more interested in buying and selling crypto than he was in selling energy drinks and manicures. They were just products that were in fashion at the time and he got out before it was too late.
I give my local bitcoin buying spree zero stars because everyplace is closed permanently.