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Mother-daughter duo build one-stop shop for custom stoles, OU merchandise

The Apothem

The Apothem on April 11.

Helen Wolney wanted to fill a gap in OU’s merchandise market.

Wolney and her mom opened The Apothem in November 1990, with the hopes of selling greek life merchandise to OU students. Since then, The Apothem has grown to sell a variety of OU-based products, including clothes and household decor. 

Notably, she also sells hundreds of customized stoles.

Wolney said she noticed a lack of access to merchandise for greek life on campus in the age before internet shopping and she wanted to put her business degree from Oklahoma City Community College to good use. The idea of opening her own business was appealing. 

“My mom and I wanted to work for ourselves. We didn’t want to work for other people,” Wolney said. “So my dad said, ‘Open your own store.’”

Wolney said she wanted the store’s name to start with the letter “A” so it would appear first in the phone book, particularly since the internet wasn’t widely available at the time. Her dad, a math teacher, suggested the term “apothem,” and the name stuck.

Wolney and her mom traveled across the U.S. to trade conventions so they could find companies to collaborate with and items to sell in their newly founded store. 

“We drove to Dallas, we drove to Atlanta, we flew to Vegas, we flew to all these big cities where they had trade shows,” Wolney said. “We had to figure it out.”

As the years went by, more and more people went into The Apothem asking for specific items like license plate covers and accessories for game day. Wolney would try to add what was requested to her stock, despite the challenges in the early days due to no internet. About ten years after The Apothem opened, a few students came in asking for customized stoles. 

Wolney was happy to oblige.

Wolney now works with more than 12 student organizations and sells around 500 customized stoles each year. She and a few students at The Apothem work from January to May, cutting, sewing and embroidering each stole. 

“It needs long, long nights, long hours,” Wolney said. “I try to fit in as much as I can during the daytime.”

Wolney said she has employed students for around 30 years at The Apothem. While she finds it challenging to work around class schedules and breaks throughout the school year, she still looks forward to each student going in for their shift.

“It’s the best part of my day,” Wolney said.

In March 2020, when the pandemic shut down campus and the country, Wolney said she closed The Apothem for eight weeks. After reopening, her sales dropped dramatically, especially the customized stoles after graduations moved online. The business is still recovering the lost revenue, she said, but she’s hopeful for the future.

She’s seen students walking around Campus Corner more often, popping into shops and restaurants as they ride bikes and scooters at all hours of the day. She’s happy the students are back and the area is active again.

“It’s fun to see all the students,” Wolney said. “There’s always something happening down here.”

Read more stories from OU Daily's 2023 Graduation Guide: 

This story was edited by Alexia Aston and Karoline Leonard. 

news editor

Jazz Wolfe has been with the Daily since 2020. They were previously a culture reporter, culture editor and the summer editor-in-chief. They focus on science and health journalism. 

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