On the 6th of May, 2013, under the watchful eye of the statue of George Washington in Union Square Park, the first known open-air marketplace for Bitcoins in New York City was held. The sunny skies clearly favored the traders, observers, and press who came out to the event, nicknamed “Satoshi Square”, to huddle amongst each other, away from the dancers, skateboarders, and casual strollers who came out to enjoy a nice bit of sun in the park. Approximately 10 Bitcoin enthusiasts were there and ready for the “opening bell” which took place at around 4:15pm (it was immediately observed that there was no bell, gavel or any other way to indicate that trading started) with many of those present already knowing each other by name or at least by face given their shared association with the BitcoinNYC Meetup group where this idea was initially pitched. Also in attendance early on were members of the press, including a representative from the New York Times and others who heard about this event via a recent Reddit announcement and from other sources, including this magazine.
One of the first things that needed to be established was who was there simply to observe and who was interested in doing some actual buying or selling. Given the small numbers, it was sufficient to have the two who readily identified themselves as being marketeers to just stand a little over to the side from the rest of the group. Then, while they started checking and verifying their positions and started bouncing prices around between them, the rest of the crowd got an impromptu lesson in trading vocabulary and phrasology by a former stock trader who would later go on to keep an informal ledger of the transactions throughout the bulk of the day’s trading. With everyone having at least a grasp of the ideas behind the way the sales would work, it was stated that we were officially going “live”. Opening buy and sell numbers were announced by both parties who then stood back and waited to process the orders.
And waited…and waited…. The crowd seemed very shy about making an initial purchase. More time passed, with the offer values fluctuating around fairly significantly due to some price swings happening on MtGox.com, still looked upon as the universal reference for Bitcoin prices. While it was thought that there was a source of free wifi in the park, nobody seemed to be able to pick it up and so much time was spent checking and rechecking the prices using cellular data levels and speeds. As one person observed, backup phone batteries may be essential for longer exchange sessions. Josh, the original pitchman for the event in last Thursday’s Meetup, mentioned that he had been exploring creating an app to assist in this particular form of trading and while he was not able to finish it in time for this event, he said that he may continue his work for future such events both here and in other cities. To occupy the time while nerves were being gathered to be the First, various ideas and suggestions were discussed among the crowd in an attempt to explore some “best practices” in the trading process itself and what obstacles they might need to be aware of given New York City park regulations. For example, presented with the hypothetical scenario of a completely new buyer who wanted to purchase their first Bitcoin right there on the spot, it was accepted that the best option would be to use the Coinapult service to complete the deal to the person.
But then it happened! Josh stepped up to the challenge and made the first “Satoshi Square” purchase, locking in a $20 buy at the $120/1btc level. The unofficial ledgerminder yelled out in response “Josh took $20@120!” and the crowd was full of smiles at witnessing this historic event. Just a few minutes after that, another Bitcoin trader – and an active professional trader by career, he claimed – arrived and closed another deal in short order. Over the course of the next hour and a half, other stragglers arrived, boosting the crowd to around 30 at its peak, including another member from the established press, this time the Financial Times. More deals were struck and more coins were traded and of course, cash changed hands. The activity never got particularly heated – the final trading volume would reach just over 10btc by around 6:00pm when the bell (didn’t) sound – but most everyone felt it was a success for being a hastily-put-together event held among a small group of people.
On the setting: Prior to the meet, there had been some concerns voiced over the physical security of those seeking to make a transaction, the “deal” security, and of possible police harassment. As far as overall security, with around 30 people present, many of whom knew each other at least in passing, there did not appear to be any problems with outsiders looking in – although a couple stopped by to find out what was taking place. Also, the deals themselves were so rare – maybe 1 every 10 minutes or so – that there was not a lot of visible clues that any amount of money was among the group or changing hands. All of the deals seemed to go through to the satisfaction of the buyer and the seller. One possible exception happened when a seller had to temporarily leave before a deal could be completed but as the buyer had not paid him, there was no real risk on the line and once the seller returned, the deal was concluded. Regarding the police, there were several police officers in the park but only once did a pair pass closely to the group and they did not seem to take any particularly interest in their activities. The park area was fairly full of people and so the trading group did not stand out to any great extent. Someone pitching a price update might raise their voice so everyone could hear the buy and sell points but the group did not get any louder than that.