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Bitcoin believers: Why these LA businesses take cryptocurrency




Robocoin CEO Jordan Kelley demonstrates how to buy and sell bitcoins during a demonstration of a Robocoin kiosk on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 8, 2014. Robocoin is the world's first bitcoin kiosk for buying and selling the digital currency. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Robocoin CEO Jordan Kelley demonstrates how to buy and sell bitcoins during a demonstration of a Robocoin kiosk on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 8, 2014. Robocoin is the world's first bitcoin kiosk for buying and selling the digital currency. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

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A few years ago, a couple walked into Wynn Nail Spa and paid for a mani-pedi using one Bitcoin. Owner Wing Yu never cashed the coin in, opting to let it sit in his digital wallet. Bitcoin's value has gone up a tad since then.

"In hindsight, I hope they have fond memories of paying $15,000 for their first mani-pedi," Yu said.

There's been a lot of buzz about Bitcoin this year, due mostly to its meteoric rise in value in recent months. At the beginning of 2017, one digital coin would have cost about $1000. Today, that same coin is worth more than $17,000 — $2000 more than when Yu spoke with Take Two just three days ago.

That growth might be attributed to the Chicago Board Options Exchange, which began listing Bitcoin futures last weekend. Buyer interest caused the exchange's website to crash. The price of one coin shot up as much as 26 percent. 

Up until its weekend debut, Bitcoin has had analysts scratching their head. It pays no dividends, and its value is driven purely by demand. As a means of transferring value, Bitcoin's reputation is seedy. Think dark web and illicit purchases. 

Since its release in 2008, Bitcoin has fathered a dynasty of digital coins called "cryptocurrency." 

"It sounds a little scary," said Priscilla Sotelo Klisch, assistant manager at Le Petit Jardin Cafe & Flowers. Her shop is one of a handful of businesses in Los Angeles that accepts Bitcoin for payments. "Crypt is not known for being the most pleasant-sounding currency. Putting the two together, what is that?"

The "what" of Bitcoin is something few understand. But some business owners have simply accepted the mystery. 

"I just look at it as, if I can trade it for real money — dollars or euros — then at least I have that," Sotelo Klisch said. 

2017 has seen Bitcoin slowly move past its dark history and into mainstream culture. For Francisco Dominguez at Meltdown Comics, Bitcoin's continued rise is vindicating.

"I'm giddy because I've been telling everybody 'Bitcoin, Bitcoin' left and right. They always thought I was talking crazy," Dominguez said. "Now, everybody wants to know about Bitcoin."

Dominguez takes all major forms of payment, but he likes Bitcoin the most. 

"When I take a transaction in Bitcoin, my percentage is so much less than taking a transaction from a credit card," he said. "If I could, I would take Bitcoin all day long [rather] than paying all the high credit card fees."

Meltdown is also one of the few places in L.A. where you can find a Bitcoin ATM machine, where customers can exchange cash for cryptocurrency. 

Bitcoin ATM at Meltdown Comics and Collectables in Los Angeles
Bitcoin ATM at Meltdown Comics and Collectables in Los Angeles
Sue Carpenter

"It's a future machine," Dominguez said. 

He said people from all walks of life come in to use his machine. Sometimes, there's a line. When Bitcoin prices are up, people come in to cash out, much like traditional investors. But Bitcoins are not to be mistaken for conventional investments; exchanges are subject to little government regulations and few protections. As Sotelo Klisch learned, forgetting that can have costly consequences.

Bitcoins are stored in digital wallets either online or on a device like a smartphone or a cryptocurrency storage device. Because there is no bank watching over the funds, users are more or less on their own. Online wallets can be hacked, and storage devices can be misplaced. 

Shortly after  Le Petit Jardin started taking Bitcoins, they lost the phone they used to store their currency. 

"With Bitcoins, there is this aspect of you have to be a little bit more hands on and responsible for managing," Sotelo Klisch said, looking back.

Some websites and exchanges try to make Bitcoin more user friendly, but for right now, cryptocurrency users are more or less on their own.

Despite the added responsibility, all three business unanimously agree that we'll be hearing a lot more about cryptocurrency in the future.

"Everything's going to be on your phone or device," said Meltdown Comics' Dominguez. "But, you know, that's 100 years in the future, and we'll all be dead when it happens, but it's gonna happen."