Legal battle continues with Goodman furniture store after former owner’s death
An 80-year-old physicist’s decade-long fight with Bethlehem City Hall over the former Goodman furniture store will extend beyond his own life.
Alvin Kanofsky was buried the same day a Northampton County judge was set to approve a $130,000 payment on taxes and liens on the blighted building and an adjacent lot that Bethlehem forced him to sell last month.
Judge Anthony Beltrami delayed that ruling until Kanofsky’s estate can be opened and the city could provide notice to the estate of the distribution of the proceeds from the sale of that pair of properties, assistant city solicitor Matthew Deschler said after meeting in chambers with the judge.
Under the proposal Deschler filed, the taxes, liens and other unpaid expenses associated with the building are so high that Kanofsky’s estate would get nothing. The court filing calls for the distribution of the money to be divided this way: $82,000 to the Internal Revenue Service, $39,000 to the Bethlehem Area School District, and $8,700 to the city.
But the sale price — $13,000 higher than the appraisal — was not enough to cover all the unpaid taxes and other expenses that have been accumulating at 30-32 E. Third St. for decades. Among the debt that will go unpaid: $69,000 to Northampton County, $15,000 to Bethlehem Area School District and $3,500 to the city.
Nor will the city get reimbursement for $135,000 in emergency repairs done to the shuttered furniture store in 2016 to stabilize the building, which sits in a downtown block prime for development.
The delay is the latest in a protracted legal battle the city has had with Kanofsky, who died Tuesday in hospice care.
Kanofsky, who was a tenured Lehigh University professor and a prolific scholar whose papers were featured in more than 100 publications, had represented himself in court.
At times, he would make fiery accusations against the city in legal documents but hold a congenial disposition in court when he contested city officials’ characterization of his property as an eyesore and a threat to public safety. Since 2008, Kanofsky had been cited dozens of times, but made little effort to fix the dilapidated building. The violations ultimately landed Kanofsky in prison for five days last year after his appeals ran out.
The city petitioned the court three years ago to become a conservator and made decisions a property owner would, forcing sale to Collaboration 3, a trio of local firms that want to turn the building into a first-floor commercial property topped by apartments. The partners include D’Huy Engineering, Alloy 5 Architects and Skepton Construction.
Kanofsky’s appeals ran out in May, prompting the city to move forward with the closing on the property Aug. 29 and ultimately the distribution of the proceeds.
Kanofsky bought the threestory, 21,000-square-foot building for $139,500 in 1986, two years after Goodman Furniture closed.
The store traces its roots to Ben Goodman, a Russian immigrant who settled in Bethlehem in 1900. His 1948 obituary says that in 1921 he founded a furniture store, later passed to his son, Samuel, and the store moved to 30 E. Third St. According to the 1918 “Men of Bethlehem,” Theodore Goodman had established a furniture business in south Bethlehem in 1910 and expanded it into the second and third floor of 30-32 E. Third St.
In the mid-80s, Kanofsky told The Morning Call that he planned to use it for private physics research, concentrating on areas of physics that have private commercial and industrial applications, and possibly for commercial space. He operated a flea market for a couple of years, but it has been vacant for at least two decades, neighbors say.
The building now sits in a historic block the city has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to revive in the wake of Bethlehem Steel’s demise, and is around the corner from a new 626-spot parking garage and six-story office building.