High street retailer British Home Stores (BHS) has filed for administration, with its Lancaster store among 164 now at risk.
Administrators Duff & Phelps will now try to find a buyer for all or part of the 88-year old business, but in the meantime BHS will continue to trade.
They said BHS, which employs almost 11,000 people nationwide, had “no alternative but to put the group into administration”.
If a buyer is not found, it would be the biggest high street collapse since Woolworths in 2008.
“The group has been undergoing restructuring and, as has been widely reported, the shareholders have been in negotiations to find a buyer for the business,” administrators Philip Duffy and Benjamin Wiles, of Duff & Phelps, said in a statement.
“These negotiations have been unsuccessful,” they said.
BHS is “very unlikely to meet all contractual payments” as a result of its lower than expected cash balance, the administrators said.
“The group will continue to trade as usual whilst the administrators seek to sell it as a going concern,” they added.
The company, which has debts of more than £1.3bn, decided to bring in administrators after talks to sell some of its 164 UK stores to Sports Direct collapsed over the weekend.
It is understood any buyer would do so only if it did not have to take on BHS’s £571m pension deficit.
A BHS spokesman said all in-store concessions, including Wallis and Dorothy Perkins, will continue to trade as normal and are unaffected.
Last year, Retail Acquisitions, a consortium of financiers, bought BHS from the retail entrepreneur Sir Philip Green for £1.
At the time, Retail Acquisitions said they would deliver £160m of funding to help turn around the fortunes of the chain, but have not been able to raise the sum.