SHERMAN OAKS : Green Dream Pays Off for Expo Founders

Marc Merson and Nina Wilcox-Merson left the glitter of tinseltown for the sheen of recycled aluminum, glass jars and plastic bottles.

The Sherman Oaks couple gave up dreams of success in Hollywood--he was a producer and she was an actor--to found the Eco Expo, now the largest national consumer show for environmental products. According to the organizers, 30,000 people attended the fourth annual expo in Los Angeles last week, and 425 exhibitors displayed their wares.

The expo is the culmination of a dream cooked up at the Mersons' dining table in the fall of 1989. The Mersons, who were in show business at the time, had just finished helping out with an environmental symposium. Their heads were filled with the ominous lectures they had heard, along with pitches for environmentally sound--or "green"--products.

"(My father) said, 'What other products are out there? Why doesn't everybody in the country know about this and other products?"' recalled Julie Merson, the Mersons' 26-year-old daughter.

The couple staged their first expo in 1991. It drew about 300 exhibitors. Since then, the number of booths and the event's revenues have grown steadily. Merson said the company grossed $1.1 million last year.

Carl Frankel, the editor of Green MarketAlert, a Bethlehem, Conn.-based newsletter tracking corporate environmental strategies, said that Eco Expo is the largest consumer show for environmental products. The company has 10 to 20 competitors, Frankel said, but the Mersons have a good chance of surviving in the competitive trade show business.

"For Marc and Nina, their fate is really tied in to the green products movement and the green business movement," he said. "If those take off, they have a chance to make a lot of money."

Last week, tradespeople browsed through a seemingly endless array of products that included shoes made from recycled Styrofoam, an electric car that can go for 100 miles without recharging and organic beer and wine.

At one stand, spokesman Robert J. Mercure explained the inner workings of his product, a processing tank that turns sewage into compost. In the fashion section, a spokeswoman for San Francisco-based Used Rubber USA, a clothing and handbag company, offered discounted prices on stylish, vaguely punk clothing made from unbleached cotton and recycled rubber trim.

Ironically, perhaps, Marc Merson's last film was "Doc Hollywood," in which Michael J. Fox plays a doctor who gives up a potentially lucrative Beverly Hills practice to work in a small town.

He said he makes less money now than he did as a producer, but "I'm more excited about this. I go to work thinking, 'Something exciting is going to happen. I'm going to talk to exciting people who are doing something for the planet.' "

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