Photo by Duncan Rawlinson.

The crypto currency associated more with international technorati and the deep web than with mom and pop shops is soon getting some local love. Be it a nose piercing or a zoot suit, you can soon do at least some of your holiday shopping in the Mission using bitcoin.

As part of its “#IntegrateSF” campaign, the digital currency startup Snapcard is recruiting businesses around the Bay Area to adopt technology that will allow brick and mortar stores to accept bitcoin. An eclectic group of merchants is already on board in the Mission, among them Siegel’s Clothing Superstore, the piercing shop Body Manipulations, and the tapas bar Asiento.

“If the Mission District became densely populated with merchants using bitcoin, that would be really cool,” said Jack Jia, operations manager at Snapcard. “It would attract tourists and shoppers… you could do a whole bitcoin tour.”

Snapcard works like a mobile app on a tablet or smartphone—kind of like Square but for crypto currency. When a vendor gets a bitcoin payment (or comprar Bitcoins to another “altcoin” such as litecoin, dogecoin, or ripple), those funds get paid out the next day in a vendor’s bank account with U.S. dollars. Snapcard generally takes a 0.5 percent fee per transaction, but for Bay Area businesses signing up as early adopters, Snapcard is offering zero transaction fees plus a free tablet.

“It’s a very simple, no risk process for me as we get the cash conversion immediately posted to our account,” said Paul Stoll, owner of Body Manipulations. “It’s just like taking credit cards in a way.”

Snapcard, which received $1.5 million in seed funding from venture capitalist Tim Draper in October, is on a mission to get more merchants processing digital currency transactions. But it’s not just about getting more users for its app, it’s also about getting more people to use the new currency on which Snapcard is based. Bitcoin, notorious for its rapid price fluctuations, isn’t circulating much, according to a study published on CoinDesk, a site for cyptocurrency watchers. The study found that 70 percent of the currency has not been involved in any transaction in the last six months. People with bitcoin often don’t spend it.

According to Jia, if you build it, they will come.

“We have to set up infrastructure on the consumer side so people will spend their bitcoin,” said Jia. “It’s a chicken and egg situation, are they not using it because there’s nowhere to use it?”

In October, when it first launched its campaign, Snapcard hoped to sign up 500 merchants around the Bay Area—a goal it has struggled to meet. So far, only 250 merchants are signed up, and only about 75 in San Francisco have installed their app. The startup has sent street teams out to various neighborhoods, including the Mission, often returning three or five times to make their sale on crypto currency. Many merchants are wary.

Jonathan Plotzker, owner of the Valencia Street boutique Acacia, saw a presentation about Snapcard at a merchants meeting and said he was intrigued but not convinced.

“There’s still a lot of questions about bitcoin,” said Plotzker. “I love being at the forefront of technology, but I don’t want to put anyone at risk, either me or my customers,” he said, speaking of the currency’s general lack of regulation.

While bitcoin enthusiasts and startups like Snapcard promise the currency is highly secure and safe, the currency is brand new and fairly unregulated. Governments large and small are still figuring out how to deal with it. Among them, California’s Department of Business Oversight announced earlier this month that it plans on drafting more regulation for digital currency. For local merchants, that uncertainty is unnerving, not to mention the perceived lack of bitcoin spending.

“Not one single customer has ever come in and asked to pay with bitcoin,” said Plotzker.

Paige Peterson, who runs a bimonthly bitcoin meetup which frequently gathers on El Rio’s patio, says she’d welcome more merchants accepting bitcoin. Peterson is employed by a Scottish company and is actually paid in bitcoin, so such a development would make her life easier.

Though Peterson is a supporter of using bitcoin, she said she thinks slow adoption is actually a good thing for many reasons. For one, the currency can only currently handle seven transactions per second—most credit card companies can process thousands of transactions per second.

“I would like to see widespread adoption, but not too fast,” said Peterson. “I’m under the mindset that bitcoin isn’t for everyone… I guess, we’ll see.”

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Daniel Hirsch is a freelance writer who has been living in the Mission since 2009. When he's not contributing to Mission Local, he's writing plays, working as an extra for HBO, and/or walking to the top of Bernal Hill.

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