Dave Chappelle Is Buying Up Yellow Springs, Ohio, and Some Locals Aren’t Happy
As a kid, Dave Chappelle mostly lived with his mom in Washington, D.C. But as a middle schooler, he spent summers with his father in a very different community — Yellow Springs, Ohio, a surprisingly diverse small town of 3,700 residents. The place must have made an impression on young Dave. After giving up Chappelle’s Show in 2004, he moved back to Ohio full-time, the perfect place to stay out of the spotlight.
For the most part, that’s been good news for Yellow Springs. He began purchasing a few spots around town, even doing stand-up shows in an area barn. That experience came in especially handy during the pandemic when he began doing socially distanced live performances at an outside pavilion. Chappelle claims the shows brought $12 million to Ohio, including $4 million to Yellow Springs. “My town was dying,” he told America during his 2020 Saturday Night Live monologue. “I did shows in my neighbor’s cornfield, and these shows were very successful and may have even helped save the town.”
But locals are getting nervous, according to a Bloomberg report, as Chappelle buys up more and more land. He owned 20 properties in Yellow Springs by 2020, which many saw as a good thing. He’s turning an old firehouse into a comedy club. An unused schoolhouse is becoming the new home for the NPR station. But as Chappelle’s live shows continued post-pandemic, some raised objections to the crowds and noise. Chappelle didn’t want to hear it. You want all of these jobs, all of this money? Then damn the ordinances, he was going to do whatever he wanted. (The shows went on in violation of town code.)
The more Chappelle owns, the more he can throw his weight around. Last year, Chappelle opposed a residential development for houses, duplexes and townhomes that would have included 1.75 acres set aside for affordable housing. (A Rolling Stone article claiming the comic helped “kill an affordable housing development” was probably unfair since no such development had actually been in the works.) Chappelle, who argued the development would bring in outsiders who would make Yellow Springs unaffordable, threatened to liquidate all of his local investments unless a town council vote went his way: “You look like clowns. I am not bluffing. I will take it all off the table.”
The votes went in Chappelle’s direction and the development was nixed. Quietly, the comedian himself has now purchased the same land but has announced no plans for its use.
Locals claim the town is divided. Many area businesses have a “Thanks, Dave” sign in storefront windows with Chappelle’s trademark C — a message that the business supports what the comedian supports. But if your business has no sign, that’s a message too, or at least it’s being interpreted as one. You’re either with Chappelle or against him.
At least with some residents, the racial element is front and center. Black community organizer Bomani Moyenda says a white woman in a grocery-store parking lot told him, “I never thought I’d be living in a town owned by a Black man.”
For others, it’s simply a matter of one person having too much power over an entire community. And then there are the many locals who believe Chappelle is literally saving the town. Everyone has an opinion. Says one Yellow Springs resident, speaking off the record, “Dave’s got to be the biggest contentious thing that I’ve ever seen pit neighbor against neighbor.”