When country distillery owner Brian Hollingworth was asked to run the bar at a 20,000-capacity festival in Wollongong on the October long-weekend, he thought he was onto a good thing.
"We've done a fair few festivals, and they've been quite successful, because in a few hours we can pull in a lot of money," he said.
He wasn't to know that the so-called Festival of Foam and Light would never see the light of day, and - even if it did go ahead - only had approval for 700 attendees as a non-alcohol event.
Mr Hollingworth runs Black Gate Distillery in Mendooran - an hour out of Dubbo - and paid $1999 to organiser Jagat Deniau, after he was told her Bulli Showground event would attract thousands.
According to Ms Deniau's website, it would be "a festival like no other" for kids and adults to revel in foam pits, enjoying fire eaters, free rides, the festival bar and "daredevil light shows with electric fireworks".
"It was a bloody expensive fee, much more expensive than other ones we've paid before, but it seemed legitimate because she said there were going to be 20,000 people there," Mr Hollingworth said. "We'd been to an event in Bathurst that attracted over 10,000, so it didn't seem a stretch to think there could be that many people in Wollongong."
Mr Hollingworth was first cold-called by Ms Deniau in December 2018, paying his stall fee soon afterwards. The event - which was moved from an initial planned date in April - was not submitted for Wollongong City Council approval until May, and received conditional approval on August 19.
By this time, doubts had surfaced, with the Mercury reporting a number of businesses had asked for a refund after Ms Deniau - also known as Riya - failed to pay her main suppliers, who pulled out in mid September.
Also, under the council approval, which came with numerous caveats, the event was to be very different from what was promised.
For instance, it had a maximum attendance limit of 700 people and was a non-alcohol event.
"When I found that out, I was just amazed," Mr Hollingworth said. "My heart sank, and that was when I knew we weren't going to see a cent of our money and this wasn't going to happen."
Mr Hollingworth was shocked to find he wasn't the only alcohol provider caught up in the festival's demise.
"Another distiller, from Fossey's Gin in Mildura, dropped in to see me in September, and we were chatting away when he said he'd booked this bar at Bulli Showgrounds," he said.
"Turns out it was the same event, and he'd been sold the bar for $700. That was when we decided to withdraw and ask for our money back."
Mr Hollingworth is yet to see any refund since his withdrawal on September 13, despite multiple assurances from Ms Deniau. He approached police and filed action through the small claims court.
Despite the main supplier - and numerous other vendors - no longer taking part, several people contacted by the Mercury still believed the event was to go ahead last Monday and had been making preparations to source their supplies up until three days before the festival.
Others were sent an email from Ms Deniau on October 2, advising them that "due to unforeseen circumstances I have had to withdraw the event".
It's unclear how exactly many small businesses have been caught up in the failure, but dozens from across NSW have made contact with each other through social media, swapping stories, conflicting emails from Ms Deniau and sharing the inconsistent fees they were charged.
For instance, Caringbah couple Shaun Albiston and Georgan Edwards paid $1500 to have exclusive control of coffee sales on the day, while Canberra Vietnamese street food vendor Cheryl Nguyen paid $250.
Minnamurra General Store owner Elyse Fanner paid $300 for a cake stall, but says her losses go well beyond this fee.
"I'd never done a market before, so I put a lot of work into preparing," she said. "It's disappointing, you feel like you've been robbed, and $300 to a small business is a lot of money. It's also about the hours of time, the ingredients and I even bought a banner that I'm not going to be able to use now."
Likewise, Batemans Bay pizza van operators Riccardo and Kate Patrizi, say the $665 stall fee they were charged to secure space for their business Cut and Run is the least of their worries.
"We were told there would be 10,000 people going, so of course we thought it would be a good thing to do," Mr Patrizi said.
"We said no to two other events because of the festival, so we lost money there. And although the fee doesn't seem a lot of money, winter down here is really hard for businesses because we count on tourism and we knew we were going into the lean period, so this has made it harder."
The couple have reported the matter to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's Scamwatch and approached police.
Illawarra MP Ryan Park has written to the NSW Fair Trading Commissioner to seek an "urgent investigation" into the event and its organiser.
"I don't want to see another community hoodwinked like this," he said.
"This is not what we want to see here in the Illawarra given we have become a really significant market for major events and festivals across Australia."
So far, Fair Trading has reiterated its standard advice that suppliers dissatisfied in their dealings with the festival should contact the trader and try to resolve the matter. Those unable resolve their issues have been advised to lodge a written complaint.
Despite emails sent to a number of suppliers by Ms Deniau, no businesses contacted by the Mercury had been refunded by Monday afternoon.
Instead she asked them to wait a little longer.
"I would have vanished by now if I did not want to give the money back to you," she wrote to one vendor at the weekend.
"I will arrange for your payment ASAP so you have it in your bank account very soon."