Startups

Why this Baltimore hair salon is accepting payment in Bitcoin

Boat captain-turned-Canton salon co-owner Kate D’Alleva talks about getting DryLand Salon's system to accept the cryptocurrency up and running. Baltimore's prominence for women in tech was part of the reason.

DryLand Salon: now accepting Bitcoin.

(Courtesy photo)

Canton’s DryLand Salon recently started accepting a new way to pay for a hair cut, color or blowout: Bitcoin.

When Dryland got the payment option fully up and running on Jan. 18, the O’Donnell Street hair salon became an early adopter of the cryptocurrency in the local business community. Bitcoin can be used to purchase any of the services and products at the salon.

The move is in part the result of responding to customers. Co-owner Kate D’Alleva said the salon’s clientele includes many women technologists. With Baltimore frequently appearing on lists as one of the best cities for women in technology, she sees the option as a logical next step after introducing online booking and check-in.

But it’s also a result of D’Alleva’s own work. She’s a Bitcoin enthusiast, and set up the app that allows the retailer to accept Bitcoin. There are practical reasons: She said the cryptocurrency allows the salon to cut down on the processing fees that a business has to pay for credit cards, and there’s not a need to watch out for bad checks. From a global perspective, it won’t be susceptible to currency fluctuations and inflation.

“I’m not saying Bitcoin is perfect,” she said. “It has just solved a lot of interesting problems, in my opinion.”

The salon’s story is a reminder that the tech and entrepreneurial community doesn’t only touch the startups at the city’s coworking spaces.

While you often think of Bitcoin existing online, D’Alleva first saw Bitcoin at a pizza shop in New York that was accepting the currency. She’s had the currency since 2014.

That’s the same year she started the salon with her sister, Lynnae D’Alleva.

“I was a boat captain and my sister happens to be most brilliant hair artist you will ever encounter,” she said. “I had been complaining about being stuck at sea and missing her and wanting to spend some time on dry land. You start to think about businesses that are possible and where our skillsets lie.”

Along Lynnae’s skills as an artist, which includes a specialty in curly hair and balayage styling, Kate brought problem-solving. At sea, she often turned to technology to solve these problems, whether it was satellite connectivity, networking or getting an Apple interface in every state room.

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“I was always very excited about the technology side of what I was doing on boats, and I’m lucky that my sister lets me run with every tech thing, as well,” Kate D’Alleva said. “We’ve got a great little shop and it has fabulous hair and I get to do the books and experiment.”

A Bitcoin transaction at DryLand Salon. (Courtesy photo)

A Bitcoin transaction at DryLand Salon. (Courtesy photo)

She set out to bring digital options to the shop, setting up online booking. Within the shop, she also wants to have as many contactless options as possible. That’s part of the appeal of Bitcoin. Another is the ability to go worldwide without currency exchanges. That’ll be useful as the salon looks to begin marketing its own haircare products.

To begin accepting the cryptocurrency, it required an education. So Kate got connected with the local community, including John Ruesing, who leads the Baltimore Bitcoin meetup and launched the state’s first Bitcoin ATM in 2014 at the former Bad Decisions bar in Fells Point.

D’Alleva said she had some Java and HTML skills, so she set up an app that allows the staff to complete the transaction. It presents a QR code, which the staff then scans to take Bitcoin from the digital wallet in a customer’s phone. The app automatically converts the dollar value into the current price of Bitcoin. D’Alleva said the security is another benefit, as the staff isn’t getting access to the private or public keys. And to start out, they’re offering a $3 discount to help offset mining fees.

D’Alleva said she’s answered questions from the staff of eight people about Bitcoin, and the system itself has been easy to get up and running. And given that it’s a hair salon, there’s been plenty of conversation about the cryptocurrency among the clients, as well.

Bitcoin had an up-and-down tenure in the last decade. After going a couple years without making too much noise, the cryptocurrency has been enjoying a resurgence recently. Between tweets from Tesla founder Elon Musk and a new high value a couple of weeks ago as it passed $50,000, it is back in the headlines. Legendary investor Bill Miller, who is based in Baltimore, called it “digital gold.” Yet it has its detractors in the public arena, like Warren Buffett and U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

But acceptance will only come as more people use it, and it’s perhaps more practical to see another avenue of wide adoption being paved through businesses like DryLand, who show that it’s a viable way to exchange payment for services. At this point, D’Alleva believes DryLand is the only retail shop in Baltimore accepting the cryptocurrency, but she’s ready to help change that.

“I will help anybody who wants to do it for their business, as well,” she said.

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