One of America’s oldest wine sellers starts taking crypto

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Catching the next wave has always been part of Acker’s DNA. The New York wine shop started life as a package shop near West Broadway and Park Place in 1820, and moved north as the city grew over the course of two centuries. In 1987, Acker moved to the Upper West Side on W 72nd Street, not far from Central Park and Lincoln Center.

Acker, Merrall & Condit, which is typically known as Acker, now accepts digital currencies for payments at wine auctions and at its New York retail store. Acker supports bitcoin, bitcoin cash, ethereum, dogecoin, PAX, Gemini Dollar and BUSD, with the payment experience resembling e-commerce in all venues; even in person, crypto purchases are handled through an online portal at the store.

“As the world becomes more and more digital, which was certainly accelerated by the pandemic, cryptocurrency will become more and more important in everyday lives,” said John Kapon, Acker’s chairman. “The best wines are all moving towards $1,000 a bottle and many are already much more, so there is a natural potential to be a highly successful match.”

Using the bitcoin payment processor BitPay, the wine store hopes to cash in the buzz around cryptocurrency. The store has also added bitcoin and ethereum to its Acker Markets platform, which includes a view of wine producers, vintages and regions in the wine auction market alongside other financial markets.

Over the course of the pandemic, several high-profile companies expressed public support for cryptocurrency, including Tesla, which made an investment and began preparing to accept cryptocurrency for automotive purchases. Mastercard announced it would support cryptocurrencies on its network, and several other major financial brands such as Visa, BNY Mellon and PayPal expanded support for cryptocurrency. And the office-sharing firm WeWork announced it would collect membership fees and pay its own rent in cryptocurrency where possible.

The attention has brought cryptocurrency closer to mainstream payments acceptance, though not entirely over the finish line. That said, PayPal has added a checkout feature that’s designed to allow crypto payments, and Mastercard’s also focused on enabling cryptocurrency payments at retailers.

For now, Acker’s approach is still rare. Acker hopes to benefit partly from investors, given the nature of its business and its customers, which include business executives and Wall Street professionals. In this way, Acker’s business model is still closer to businesses that have accepted bitcoin for payments, such as fine art and real estate, than a restaurant or a hardware store.

“Acker received a fair amount of interest from existing and potential clients looking for ways to spend their cryptocurrency,” Kapon said. “It felt like the right time to take this next step deeper into the virtual space given the past year’s changes.”

Acker is in the same boat as other retailers, given the pandemic’s impact. The store has leaned on its online auction business, which has an international following, to compensate for the relative lack of in-store traffic and in-person business. And despite the pandemic, Brexit and the trade war during the Trump years, higher-priced wines increased in value, giving Acker’s crypto support potential as a payment tender and also a hedge for crypto investors who may look to occasionally convert their crypto holdings into something more tangible.

“There is a great deal of intersection between Acker’s clientele and cryptocurrency investors, but nothing drastically changed in our operations,” Kapon said, adding many of its clients are high-profile and affluent. “It makes sense that people with large sums of cryptocurrency might want to enjoy, or invest in wine.”

Acker also offers tutorials and instruction on wine, its buying and selling, and how to pay invoices and track bids during online and in-person auctions. The store sees these venues and the mainstreaming of cryptocurrency as a way to bring new consumers into the wine business.

“It is clear there is tremendous potential in this area for education, or just some good old fashioned inebriation,” Kapon said.

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