The Jeep dealership in Overland Park, Kan. looks just like any other — rows of shiny new cars filling up a gigantic lot, with a spacious indoor showroom to one side. What you wouldn't know from walking by on the street, however, is that the enterprising salesmen at Overland Park will trade you an entire car for a bucket of intangible gold.
Overland Park Jeep is one of over 200 real-world businesses in the United States that accept bitcoins, the virtual currency that's lately taken Washington by storm. The total value of all bitcoins in circulation is around $6 billion — though that number fluctuates as the price of bitcoins wobbles, sometimes spectacularly, relative to the dollar. While most places that take bitcoins exist only on the Internet, some retailers have proven more adventurous.
Earlier this year on a visit to Palo Alto, Calif., I stopped in a local coffee shop — Coupa Cafe, on Ramona Street. After ordering a tea and a latte, I reached for my credit card before noticing a bit of green text on the bill. At first I thought they'd tacked on an extra charge, but on closer inspection, it turns out that I could have paid for my drinks in bitcoins instead.
The tech-crazed Bay Area seems like an obvious place to find bitcoin-friendly businesses. But you'll also find them in less likely locations. Rooks Comics and Games, in Bozeman, Mont., for instance. An antique shop in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Alberty's Broadway Liquor in Muskogee, Okla., about an hour out of Tulsa. And the Church of Saint John the Evangelist in Goshen, N.Y.
On the East Coast, you'll find at least four venues in Manhattan and nine in Brooklyn. Washington, D.C., sadly, has only two places where you can spend your digital cash, and one of them seems to be a think tank of sorts. But take your bitcoins to Cambridge, Mass., and you'll find a welcome at a fusion eatery named Thelonious Monkfish and a diner called Veggie Galaxy.
Considering how unstable the value of bitcoins still is, it might make more sense to use plain old dollars for now. But if you find a business that's not already on the map above, you can add it to the open-source database, Coinmap.org, that created it.