Vinyl shop owner Dillon Smith built a community of music lovers — and a business that puts family first.
by Erin Breeden
photographs by Justin Driscoll
Noble Records is a little off the beaten path. Located in a strip center on E. Independence Blvd. that’s anchored by a massive Elevation Church, you might drive right past the small shop without even noticing. When you walk through the doors, you’ll see racks of vinyl, some music memorabilia and a casual seating area where customers can take a break from browsing. Behind the counter, a man with a beard and friendly eyes greets you and inquires how he can help you today.
Dillon Smith, 32, is the owner of Noble Records. After nearly a decade selling records online and at pop-ups at local coffee shops and breweries, the vinyl reseller opened a brick-and-mortar location in October. The Matthews shop, located just across the parking lot from a South 21 burger restaurant, is a place where everyone from the serious collector to the vinyl newbie can gather to shop and talk music.
“I wanted to have a brick-and-mortar store since I was a kid,” Smith says. “I remember being 14 or 15 and being like, ‘I can’t find records anywhere. When I grow up, I’m going to start a record store.’ That was ridiculous at the time, but now it works. It’s amazing where the trend has gone to make it possible.”
But it wasn’t until Smith became a father that he started seriously thinking about opening his own shop — after he saw the impact music had on others, and especially when it came to the well-being of his oldest son, Noble.
Smith grew up in a music-loving family in Midland, less than an hour east of Charlotte in Cabarrus County. Some of his earliest memories involve his mother’s collection of Bob Dylan records and his aunt’s turntable.
“I would go up to visit my cousins, and we would mess around with the turntable,” Smith remembers. “Then I kind of started picking up records and collecting records. Eventually, I got a turntable of my own, and that’s how it all started for me.”
In his early teens, Smith started listening to classic rock such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath that he could learn to play on the guitar. It was his guitar that also eventually led him to meet his wife, Emily, 34.
“My wife is a great musician, and we met when we both played music for our church. We started doing coffee-shop gigs together,” Smith says. “We were friends, and we played those gigs for a while before she fell in love with me. I fell in love with her immediately,” he laughs. “It took her a couple of years to fall for me.”
When they got married in 2010, Smith was between jobs with just a little over $200 to his name. It was around this time that he connected with a man who would change the course of his life.
“In 2010, records weren’t big like they are now, but I found this guy who had owned a record store in Chicago,” Smith recalls. “He moved to Charlotte and was going to open a record store here and never did. He had 7,000 records that were still sealed, from the late ’80s and early ’90s. I asked him, ‘How much money do you want for everything?’ and he asked how much money I had in my pocket. I said ‘$200 is all I got,’ and he took it. So that’s how I started selling records.”
Smith started selling vinyl on Craigslist, originally branding the business as DAE Smith Records (DAE stood for Dillon And Emily). That changed in 2013, on the day their son, Noble, was born.
“I thought, everything I do from here on out is going to be for my kids, so the day we named him, we also renamed the business. That day it became Noble Records.”
Almost three years later, little brother Cannon was born. Smith was still selling records online and had a job he enjoyed at a fiber-optic manufacturing plant. It was during this time that the couple became concerned that 3-year-old Noble still wasn’t talking or reaching other milestones typical for his age.
The Smiths took their son to a neurologist, and Noble was diagnosed with autism. Soon after, he started therapy and other treatments. Noble’s doctor leveled with Smith and told him that his schedule at work, which included a lot of 12-hour night shifts, was affecting Noble’s progress. Noble, who like many autistic children has difficulty sleeping, would stay up all night waiting for his father to come home.
“Noble thrives on a schedule, and my shifts were really hard on him. That was the best job I ever had. … It had really good benefits, health care coverage, just everything. But I had to quit for him.”
To make money to support his son’s therapy, Smith started playing music on the side and got more serious about selling his records. Having amassed a huge vinyl collection over the years, he decided to sell all of it. His intention was to shut the business down so he could look for another job, but his customers had other plans for him.
After selling a few high-ticket albums and launching a series of pop-up sales, more money started coming in. A community of music lovers formed, and they would prove not only to be devoted customers but also invaluable supporters of the Smiths as they sought new treatments for their son.
In early 2018, Noble Records began planning one of its largest pop-ups to date at Divine Barrel Brewing on N. Davidson St. Proceeds from sales of records, T-shirts and other merchandise would be set aside for a new treatment for Noble.
“We had done all the therapy and treatments our doctors had recommended, but … we wanted to try something that was more holistic,” Smith says. A doctor in New Mexico offered an alternative therapy with a high success rate of helping autistic children learn to communicate. But it would involve taking the family on a cross-country trek. “We knew Noble wouldn’t be able to take a flight; we would have to drive. We knew we needed help, and that’s when we planned the pop-up.”
Before the event in June 2018, Smith had not spoken publicly about his son’s autism diagnosis. He posted on Instagram about the pop-up and the need to raise money for Noble’s therapy. Even before the sale, people started sending donations. Someone offered the family a 15-passenger van for use as long as they needed it.
At Divine Barrel, the community of music lovers that Smith had built showed up and offered generous support. Between donations and sales from the pop-up, the Smiths had more than enough money for Noble’s two-week treatment session. They left for Albuquerque later that summer in the borrowed van.
“We were gone for a month. He had his treatments, but we were also able to go to the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, and we drove through a bunch of cool states,” Smith says. “Since we had kids, we had never really had a vacation. This allowed us to really focus on our family and not to have to worry about money or anything like that. It was [restorative] for our family to be able to just enjoy each other and get treatment for Noble.”
Since that summer, the Smiths put Noble, now 6, on a gluten-, dairy- and casein-free diet. Today, he is not only speaking, he’s singing. He is also sleeping through the night, something Smith never expected would happen.
“Autism is a journey,” Smith says. “Nothing is going to just click and make everything normal. … He’s not 100%, but we’re working on it. … We want to be open and be active about helping him grow. It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation with autism. It’s called a spectrum for a reason. One person with autism can be completely different from the next.”
Smith had always wanted to open a physical store, but after seeing the changes in Noble he decided to actively pursue it.
“My main reasoning for wanting to open a shop was to be more flexible, because I want to be part of his treatment. I want to be active in that and to be more flexible to where I can have more time with him. That’s what really makes a difference, is the intentional time.”
In the spring of 2019, the Smiths found the retail space in Matthews. They signed a lease in September, and the store officially opened in October.
“I only work two to three days a week at the store, but even if I’m out looking for records or collections, a lot of times my family comes with me. … It becomes an adventure.”
Emily decorated the store, and there is even a room in the back for Noble and Cannon, now 3, to watch movies. Current favorites include Zootopia and Turbo.
“I want [Noble Records] to be a place where people can come in and talk about music and hang out. We have a good family vibe in here, and people bring their kids in. Kids jump on the couch and run around, and it’s totally cool.”
Smith says that when people find out about Noble’s journey, they want to talk about autism.
“You know, through our story, I want to give people hope. I think it helps them understand autism a little bit better.”
Noble loves music and likes to play the piano. At the time we spoke, he especially loved the Beatles. In this store, family and music go hand-in-hand. SP