DALLAS, Ga. - At least 200 family-run businesses scrambled to find new locations after the city of Dallas ordered a popular shopping destination shut down.
The Dallas Markets opened two years ago in a Paulding County-area warehouse. Shoppers flocked to enjoy an impressive variety of locally designed arts and crafts, food trucks, even live entertainment, all in one place.
For many of the vendors, the upcoming holiday shopping season was to be their most successful time of the year.
Then Dallas Markets owner Andrew Rodriguez started building his bunker.
"Nobody could go in the back because he was keeping it a secret," said Craig Stark, one of the displaced vendors. "Everybody was whispering, what's going on? What's going on?"
The Dallas Fire Marshal had the same questions. What was that weird structure going up in Building Three near the main Dallas Markets location? What's with all the shipping containers stacked on top?
And why didn't anyone pull the proper permits?
"We were very surprised as to the extent of what was going on," said city attorney Darrin Keaton.
An Oct. 26 city inspection field report detailed a series of unpermitted work done at the property stretching back to August, including multiple electrical code violations.
According to Keaton, Rodriguez promised to have his architect send a letter explaining the work. Instead, on Oct. 27, that architect sounded the alarm.
"I am hereby notifying you of conditions I find potentially dangerous to public health and safety," Gaylon Lerch wrote to Dallas officials, insisting his client had not consulted him on the true extent of the project underway at Building Three.
He said Rodriguez described the new construction as "bunker and support facilities," with an "armory, panic room, pantry, bunk room..." and a septic field, something that's not allowed in the city of Dallas.
There were also concrete walls 12 to 16 inches thick with vault-style doors.
According to the architect's letter, the bunker itself was 2,500 square feet.
Dallas suspended the business license for Dallas Markets and cited Rodriguez for four violations, including ignoring zoning rules, and ordered him to remove the shipping containers with 72 hours. He is due in court Dec. 1.
"We can't let people wander around or be on that property if we don't know that it's 100% safe," explained Keaton. But the decision could not have come at a worse time for vendors and their devoted customers.
Vendor Stark paid Rodriguez $440 a month plus a portion of his sales to set up his Bladeworx knife sharpening business in the Dallas Markets. Last month, he was forced to borrow money from his children to quickly rent a small building on Hardee Street so he could stay open.
"This is my livelihood," he explained. "This is my business. This is what I do to feed my family."
But Rodriguez told the FOX 5 I-Team family is what he had in mind, too.
"I don't understand why this has turned into something other than me trying to take care of my family and the community," he explained while standing outside the now-shuttered Dallas Markets.
"I think a lot of this is just getting into a conversation and getting permission," Rodriguez said.
Still, in the months leading up to the unauthorized work, Rodriguez made a series of bizarre posts on social media.
Most of them were reposting other warnings about impending doom in the United States and ideas on how to survive what's certain to come, like making your own penicillin out of plants.
One vendor showed us a handwritten note Rodriguez shared on their group page warning about the FBI and that "spies were installed at the Dallas Markets and everything was hacked."
Then, there was a four-minute video Rodriguez recorded and shared with vendors.
"I'm going to read you this letter that was given to me by a vision from God," he said during a livestream. "God has called us to be warriors. And we are going to take this country back in his name!"
We asked Rodriguez if he was preparing for the End Times.
"I don't think these are the End Times," he answered. "It depends on what you think the End Times as being."
He would not explain those odd messages he sent to his vendors. But he said he felt horrible for what they've gone through and wished he had sought permission first before building anything.
"I don't know that I've broken anybody's trust," Rodriguez explained. "I think I've always pushed the envelope. I don't always know all the rules and regulations to do things. I've learned things the hard way sometimes."
He still believes Dallas Markets will one day reopen. But others fear a place that made so many happy will never be the same.
"I wish Andrew and his family all the luck in the world to get it up and running," said Stark, the knife-sharpening vendor forced to move. "Honestly, I don't think [he can.] And if he does, it's going to be extremely hard to get it back to where it was."
Dallas Mayor James Kelly issued a statement that said in part "we have to follow our own ordinances and codes that are established within our city government or else there would be chaos and disorder. We are currently working with the business owners to help get them in compliance."