It's a lot of money for small operations. Besides the booth rental - you have hotel and travel costs. You can't get a room for less than $125 / nite around there. If you're coming a long way (west coast, etc.) you're looking at very high travel expense. A show like this can cost a couple thousand dollars even for a 1 or 2 man operation.
I don't believe that the larger telescope manufacturers make $$$ there (Celestron, Meade, etc.) --- but to them this at part of their ADVERTISING budget. They have to be there to maintain their STATUS. As industry LEADERS - they simply have to be there.
However I would BET that vendors like Highpoint Scientific and Woodlland Hills would NOT be there UNLESS they made PROFIT and I bet they do.
And I would also bet TeleVue made profit this year with the return of the deep discounted "scratch & dent" sale.
Personally while several were "missing" this year - OPT, Stellarvue, Vixen, New Moon, etc. NEAF is not going away any time soon. It's the PREMIER amateur astronomy & telescope event on the planet. RAC knows what they are doing bringing in big name speakers, etc. They are running a CLASS ACT IMHO and are doing it "RIGHT". Stellarvue will be back and I wouldn't be surprised to see the others again as well.
PS: HighPoint Scientific DID hand out 10% off coupons - there's no mention of an expiration date on them. Says on them "DISCOUNTS AS GOOD OR BETTER THAN AT THE SHOW" !!! I assume they are good in the future??? (will call them today and ask)
A sales rep from Highpoint told me last year that the week after NEAF is their busiest of the year.
A rep at the Highpoint booth told me that the discount code on the cards they were handing out this year are good until next Sunday (4/14)