CARIBOU, Maine — Maine’s northernmost county is catching on to the cryptocurrency trend.
Cryptocurrency can be accessed in Maine through ATMs offered by different companies. So far the Lewiston-based Maine Bitcoin LLC has the largest presence, with 33 in the state as well as two in neighboring New Hampshire. The Las Vegas-based Coin Cloud is quickly gaining ground, with more than 20 ATMs statewide. That includes at least 11 in Aroostook County.
Store owners throughout Aroostook have agreed to house the machines, known as Bitcoin ATMs, in exchange for the companies paying rent for each space. While many business owners initially did not think the machines would be popular, they have seen a steady increase in the number of people using the ATMs to purchase, send and trade Bitcoins.
For a rural region like Aroostook, with an aging population and lack of access to the more tech-affluent West Coast, the new presence of Bitcoin ATMs may seem surprising. But business owners are quickly realizing the benefits of drawing in new customers and possibly getting a step ahead of the latest digital currency trends.
“We probably see four or five people a week use [the machines] at both stores,” said Pat Cyr, who owns Mike’s Quik Stop and Deli and First Choice Market and Deli, both in Caribou. “The one at Quik Stop gets a lot of traffic on Sundays. People will be on there for a few hours.”
Like other cryptocurrencies, people who use Bitcoin can send, purchase and trade the digital coins through specialty ATM machines without stepping foot in a bank. The currency has become popular among millennials who see the lack of government regulation on the currency as placing more freedom in the hands of consumers.
The ATM at First Choice, installed a year ago, comes from a Miami-based company called Bitstop. But the ATM at Mike’s comes from the Las Vegas-based Coin Cloud, the company responsible for the majority of Bitcoin ATMs in Aroostook.
Cyr has never used Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies but figured it would do no harm to place ATMs at her stores, since she benefits from the company’s rental payments. A partnership between her grocery supplier, Associated Grocers of New England, and Coin Cloud allowed the machine’s installation to occur at no cost to her.
Joshua Button, director of retail technology for AGNE, said the partnership allows businesses access to the ATMs without having to contact Coin Cloud themselves. AGNE has ATM agreements with 11 retail stores in Aroostook.
The company has installed more than 4,000 Bitcoin ATMs across the United States, with 12 in cities and towns such as Bangor, Augusta, Portland, Rockport, Lewiston, Blue Hill, Bath, Turner, Clinton and Fairfield. Though the ATMs primarily advertise Bitcoin, users can trade, sell and purchase more than 40 types of cryptocurrencies, according to Coin Cloud’s website.
Coin Cloud’s map reveals a growing ATM footprint in Aroostook, with nine machines at grocery and convenience stores as far north as Caribou and as far south as Island Falls. Others exist in Presque Isle, Fort Fairfield, Mars Hill, Washburn and Easton.
Cyr said that Coin Cloud representatives reached out to her as they were looking to expand their ATM presence in towns close to the Canadian border. While she has not seen a spike in customers because of the machines, she does think that having Bitcoin users in the stores increases the chance of those people making purchases.
Local entrepreneur Josh Tweedie has had Coin Cloud Bitcoin ATMs at his IGA grocery store locations in Presque Isle, Fort Fairfield and Mars Hill since last November. Like Cyr, Tweedie has not invested in Bitcoin himself. But as a business owner, he saw an opportunity to get ahead on what could become a more mainstream currency in the future.
As with other Aroostook businesses, Tweedie has not yet allowed customers to purchase items with their Bitcoins, but he is open-minded on what future he sees for cryptocurrencies.
“I think in the future less people will be carrying cash on them,” Tweedie said. “We see more people using ApplePay or debit and credit cards.”
At least for now, the use of Bitcoin ATMs in Aroostook is growing.
The Lewiston-based Maine Bitcoin LLC has placed their ATMs mostly at convenience stores and restaurants. So far only one exists in Aroostook County — at Timberwolves Restaurant in Mars Hill.
Officials from Maine Bitcoin did not respond to a request for comment.
Timberwolves has housed a Maine Bitcoin ATM for the past year after Operations Manager Chandler Dixon reached out to the company. People who use the machine have enjoyed the easy access to Bitcoin, said Timberwolves owner Michael Stiggle.
“It has brought in new customers that probably would not have come in,” Stiggle said. “Some have ended up buying something to eat after using the machine.”
With the exact future of cryptocurrency being uncertain, Stiggle said he has not been willing to personally invest in Bitcoin or other digital monies. But he is open to expanding his payment options for customers if that trend catches on.
“It would have to become a national trend before I decide to allow that,” Stiggle said.