SOUTHEASTERN N.C. –– Residents of the Cape Fear region can now buy Bitcoin at local Harris Teeters or Food Lions.
The cryptocurrency company Coinme, which produced some of the earliest Bitcoin ATMs in the world, has expanded a partnership with an actual coin exchange company to make bitcoin accessible to buy in North Carolina.
Coinme collaborates with a company that operates actual coin exchanges, Coinstar, which already has a network of machines that provide cash for coins in grocery stores around the state.
Armed with a recent regulatory approval from the N.C. Office of the Commissioner of Banks, Coinme was given license to rewire the Coinstar devices, making them capable of Bitcoin purchases.
Bitcoin can now be bought at 15 grocery stores in the Wilmington area. (See the specific locations at the bottom of this article.) Transactions are subject to an 11% fee.
“We’ve recently been awarded the license from the North Carolina financial regulator,” said the company’s CEO Neil Bergquist in an interview. “Coinstar reached out to their retail partners, and they see it as a great opportunity as well.”
Coinme started in 2014 as a producer of Bitcoin ATMs, which allowed users to scan a QR code to move cryptocurrency into a digital wallet. Bergquist said Coinme built the first licensed cryptocurrency ATM in the world.
“Because we had worked with regulators from day one, we had been able to create that trust element that was really lacking in the industry,” he said.
The company engaged with Coinstar in 2019, riding the wave of heightened interest in crypto that followed a price spike in late 2017. The platform on the already-existing Coinstar machines is more simple than the standard buying process of the coin.
“A lot of people feel like you need to be a computer scientist to store digital assets,” Bergquist said.
His company’s technology requires users to make an account on their website, upload government identification, and then they’re ready to buy. Cash inserted to the Coinstar machines will be exchanged for cryptocurrency on a user’s Coinme account.
“We are one of the largest onramps of bitcoin in the world,” Bergquist added. “You can go to your neighborhood grocery store and in two clicks you just bought bitcoin.”
‘A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System’
Bitcoin’s origin started with a white paper published in Oct. 2008 by Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonym of the currency’s mysterious founder, who has never been identified. Nakamoto dreamed of a “decentralized” financial exchange, without interference from banks or governments, and offered direct software solutions that could achieve that goal.
The technology used by Bitcoin (BTC) and its newer counterparts allows people to send assets to one another over the internet — recording all the movements on a public ledger made up of strings of letters and numbers. Every action on the ledger is irreversible, making the transactions impossible to manipulate. The so-called blockchain is powered by “miners” who use computer equipment to muscle the process forward.
Blockchain hawks believe the tech could start revolutions in industries beyond finance. One company used the data-sharing capabilities to change the way sensitive medical data is exchanged between doctor and patient; another seeks to make voting on mobile phones possible.
Coinbase, an early cryptocurrency exchange started in 2012, was valued at around $100 billion at the time of its initial public offering in April 2021.
“Back then, a lot of larger companies were never going to touch crypto, or at least that was the mindset,” Bergquist said.
In the 2017 winter holiday season, BTC’s price rocketed, hitting a ceiling of just under $20,000 a week before Christmas. Thereafter, it took a devastating plunge but steadily regained value in the years since.
PayPal integrated cryptocurrency into its exchanges last year, and online financial platforms like Venmo and Cashapp have likewise expanded into the crypto realm. This mainstream adoption from chunks of the private sector helped spur a rally in BTC’s price that held steady until mid-April 2021.
But in recent months, its detractors have made noise. Elon Musk has stepped into the fray a few times, announcing a halt on Tesla’s acceptance of BTC as tender, and calling out the environmental consequences of bitcoin mining.
As of this week, BTC’s price is floating in the mid-$30,000s, down from its 2021 high of around $63,000 two months ago.
“The majority of the country is aware of Bitcoin and digital currency yet very few people own it yet,” Bergquist said. “Once people know there’s a trusted, safe, easy, idiot-proof way to buy bitcoin, then we see adoption growing dramatically from there.”
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