An ATM that converts bitcoins to Canadian dollars and vice versa opened for business in a Vancouver coffee shop today, marking a world first.
The kiosk, located inside Waves Coffee House at Howe and Smithe streets in downtown Vancouver, attracted its first customers, along with dozens of people who wanted to see how it worked, shortly after it went live at 9 a.m.
The automated teller machine will be operated by Vancouver-based Bitcoiniacs and Nevada-based Robocoin. They plan to open four more locations across Canada.
Customers will need to have their palms scanned in order to exchange up to $3,000 worth of bitcoins per day. Canadian cash can be fed in or taken out from the machine and exchanged for bitcoins on Canada’s VirtEx exchange. The bitcoins will then be transferred to and from the customer’s online bitcoin wallet. The user will also have the option to receive a paper voucher representing the transaction.
As of Tuesday morning, Bitcoiniacs reported that it was buying bitcoins for $183.21 each and selling them for $207.37 to $211.32. The virtual currency's value has swung wildly in the past year, starting at $13 in January and hitting a high of $266 in April.
Bitcoin, which came into existence in 2009, isn’t controlled by any authority such as a central bank. In the recent past, the currency has gained notoriety for its use to buy illicit goods such as drugs on websites such as Silk Road, which was recently shut down by U.S. authorities. However, it is increasingly being accepted by legitimate businesses around the world.
Michael Bliss, owner of Pacific Bliss Yoga, said his business was the first in Western Canada to start accepting bitcoins two years ago.
“Now, we’ve got at least 20 businesses this year,” said Bliss, co-founder of the BitCoin Co-op, on CBC’s Early Edition Tuesday. The organization helps businesses and customers exchange bitcoins and connects people to businesses that accept bitcoins.
In an interview, Bliss acknowledged that up until now, exchanging bitcoins for other types of currency has been “a pain.”
The arrival of bitcoin kiosks like the one that opens today may start to change that.
Amanda Krystalovich, who runs the personal training business Krystal Fit Studio, said bitcoin has its advantages over other types of payment.
“It's a lot cheaper than accepting, say, Visa or MasterCard. It’s very secure as well,” she told CBC’s The National.
Mitchell Demeter, co-founder of Bitcoiniacs, said the digital currency is good for more than just buying coffee.
"It is the best performing currency in the world,” he said. “It has grown over a thousand per cent year after year, for the last four years. So people are using it also as an investment.”