Featured Story

Karen Springer, a businesswoman, wife, mother, activist and brand-new citizen, is home on Shelter Island

If you called Karen Springer a Renaissance woman, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration. Her talents range from the arts to business with a heavy commitment to community service. She speaks three languages — Spanish, English and French — and has traveled throughout the world.

That one of her endeavors involves artwork might be in her DNA, since her father, Anthony Angel Garcia, is a Colombian artist.

A newly-minted American citizen, Ms. Springer swore her allegiance to the United States in June. She first came to America in 2009 and had a job in Westport, Conn., as an au pair for a family who summered on Shelter Island.

Born in Colombia, the 38-year-old entrepreneur designs handbags and makes jewelry as well as selling real estate for Corcoran.

She was headed in another career direction when she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Universidad Latina de Costa Rica, concentrating on communications and marketing after her family relocated from Colombia to Costa Rica when Ms. Springer was 17.

Following college, she worked as a radio journalist, interviewing people from many different countries. But when she moved to the United States, her English at that time wasn’t strong enough to stay in the field, she said. Still, she thinks at some point, she might want to launch a blog in Spanish.

Another job she held in Costa Rica was as a manager for Britt, a retail coffee company, where she trained new employees there and in the company’s outlets in Peru and Chile.

The Chequit played a huge role in the turn Ms. Springer’s personal life would take. After work one day she met a man who would become her husband — Brian Springer, an Island landscaper. They would talk, get to know one another and grow close. Today, they’re the parents of two sons —  Santiago, 7, and Nicholas, 5, both of whom Ms. Springer home schooled before enrolling them in Our Lady of the Hamptons.

When she was pregnant with Santiago and wondering how to best spend her time, she opted to get licensed in real estate sales. She owned investment properties on Shelter Island, as well as in Costa Rica and Colombia, so the idea wasn’t foreign to her.

Couple that with her own search for a place to live and she got to know the real estate market here, she said. Working for Corcoran and helping clients find both special homes and value-driven investments has proven to be a satisfying endeavor, Ms. Springer said.

She attributes her success in the field to a willingness to listen. “When we work together, my hope is to find you a home you treasure,” she said.

Four years ago, she launched her own crafts business, which started as a hobby when she was a child. She was inspired by the Wayuu, an indigenous people from Colombia. “When I visited the Wayuu tribe, it was exciting to see these amazing artistic people,” Ms. Springer said.

But she found it distressing that there was so much poverty among the Wayuu people and she was motivated to work directly with them. She designs patterns that they use in creating beautiful crocheted bags called mochilas. It’s a “very complicated process,” she said.

A single bag takes three weeks of intensive and concentrated work by one Wayuu. She sells the bags and pays the Wayuu people who created them.

During the pandemic, Colombians suffered greatly, and that was particularly true of the Wayuu people, who found it difficult to make a living in their own country, she said. They traveled around the Guajira region, located between Colombia and Venezuela, to sell their bags, making just enough money to feed their families. “As the tribe struggled for survival, the mochilas became one of their primary sources of income,” Ms. Springer said.

She was able to make sales to Islanders and visitors at her small shop on St. Mary’s Road. “You will enjoy your colorful bag for the rest of your life,” she said. “The bags are strong, beautifully textured, handmade and of a wonderful quality.”

Ms. Springer also makes jewelry from recycled materials, including orange peel, acai and agua nuts, also called vegetable ivory, grown from palm trees. On Saturday mornings, Ms. Springer can be found at the Farmers Market on the grounds of the Shelter Island Historical Society selling the bags and jewelry along with popsicles that are natural, made from fruit.

With two jobs and family responsibilities, Ms. Springer makes time to teach English at the library to non-English speaking people. “If you schedule your time, you can do everything,” she said about balancing her many responsibilities. “Life is too short to do something if you’re not happy.”

As for settling on Shelter Island, she said, “I love the nature, peacefulness and living quality of Shelter Island. I couldn’t be happier here.”