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Where to spend your virtual currency

Bitcoin, bitcoin, bitcoin. If you haven’t heard about the virtual currency yet, maybe you should crawl out from under that rock.

But for a currency that’s created so much buzz recently in the nation’s capital, Bitcoin is relatively useless for day-to-day purchases in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

BitcoinAccording to coinmap.org, two businesses in Maryland and three in Washington accept the currency as payment. While the number is small, other regions are not far ahead.

San Francisco seems to be a leader, with 16 Bitcoin-using businesses in that area. Portland, Ore., has 11, as does Manhattan, and about 26 are scattered across Florida. Various clusters of companies across the Midwest have taken to it as well.

The businesses include online stores and service-based companies along with some coffee shops, retail stores and cupcake bakeries. Even a Subway restaurant in Allentown, Pa. found its way onto the map, attracting visitors from hours away who just want to use their virtual money.

Maryland’s participants include a college consultancy and an online retail operation. The latter really has no choice but to accept Bitcoin — its products are items that promote the currency.

The Washington participants: a website developer, IT firm and a leadership conference facilitator.

“I think anyone who takes it now, it’s just a gimmick,” said Mike Brenner, a founder of Betamore, a business incubator in Federal Hill that will host a Baltimore Bitcoin meetup Dec. 4.

But Craig Meister, the college application consultant behind Tactical College Consulting, said it’s no gimmick, just good business sense.

Many of his customers pay online, he said, so why pay a 2.9 percent surcharge to PayPal plus 30 cents per transaction, when he can take digital payments using Bitcoin with no strings attached? Meister expects that at least some of his customers will want to pay this way — most of them are highly educated, he said, and likely to be in-the-know about virtual currency.

Brenner finds this zero-fee aspect exciting. He likes the idea of a new technology that shakes up the current, traditional banking system — what he referred to as “a pain in the butt.” But he’s not ready to use even his existing stash of Bitcoin, not even for a sandwich.

“That would be a very expensive sandwich,” he said, and he’s right in the long-term sense. If he had used Bitcoin to buy a sandwich Nov. 13, it would have cost him about 0.011 BTC. That same sandwich would be about 0.005 BTC two weeks later, Nov. 27.

Or, if he had saved that 0.011 BTC, it would have been worth about $12 Nov. 27.

It’s like the common trap into which eager shoppers fall — buying a product, just to see that it’s majorly discounted two weeks later.

So for now, Brenner plans to hold on to his virtual coin and see what happens. But for those enthusiasts burning a Bitcoin hole in their pockets, perhaps hire a college consultant or buy some virtual currency merchandise from Baltimore-based cryptoanarchy.com.

Or, if you think you’ll be hungry in a few hours, take a drive to Allentown and buy a sandwich.