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The Saint John Exhibition has been losing money since eliminating its entrance fee. But board members say it's worth it to offer the event free to the community. (CBC)

The Saint John Exhibition Association draws close to 20,000 visitors a year but it has been losing money since it dropped its entrance fee seven years ago.

"It's an event for the community, that's how we view it," said Blair MacDonald, the general manager of the Saint John Exhibition Association.

Gerry Lowe, a member of the association's board, says even though there is no chance of making any money at the exhibition, the association is in good shape financially and is able to absorb the loss of between $100,000 and $125,000 every year.

"We know that we're going to lose," said Lowe.

"What we try to do is make the loss as small as we can."

The loss is covered through a weekly bingo and from rent the association collects from properties along McAllister Drive.

MacDonald says with more than $4 million in a capital fund, the association can afford to subsidize the community event.

Attendance up at Exhibition

MacDonald says when the Saint John Exhibition Association dropped its admission fee seven years ago, it struck a deal to take a bigger chunk of the midway's profits.

The gate fee was eliminated in an attempt to bring in more people and that has worked.

Nathan Smithers, the manager of East Coast Amusements, is in charge of all the attractions and concessions at the midway.

"We've seen attendance go up on our end since the gate charge has been dropped," he said.

While Smithers wouldn't say how much the midway makes in Saint John, he did say its new ride, the Himalaya, cost $750,000.