Video report by ITV News Correspondent Angus Walker
Department store chain Beales has collapsed into administration after failing to find a last-minute buyer to rescue the 139-year-old business, it has been confirmed.
About 1,000 jobs at the 22 stores are now at risk, as administrators from KPMG step in to see if the business can be saved.
The company’s website has been taken down, although the stores will continue trading while administrators look for a buyer.
The Bournemouth-based retailer is the latest high street name to suffer from soaring business rates and the public deserting shopping centres in record numbers.
Last month Beales hired advisers at KPMG to lead a strategic review in order to find a profitable future for the business.
The company was previously in talks with landlords over rent reductions, through a Company Voluntary Arrangement, and reports suggested two potential buyers had been lined up.
Chief executive Tony Brown told local newspaper The Daily Echo, before the administration announcement, that the retailer has struggled with difficult trading conditions and criticised the "lunacy" of high business rates.
He said: "I can’t predict which stores will stay and which stores won’t because it all depends on landlords and local government."
Jobs in 22 stores are at risk following the announcement.
The retailer was taken into private ownership by Mr Brown in 2018, 23 years after the company was floated on the London Stock Exchange.
He also accused councils of failing to help struggling retailers, saying that local authorities “really don’t care” about high street stores.
Speaking to the BBC last week, he said: "We’ve only managed to get one council to help us out on a temporary basis.
"Landlords - not all of them but predominantly most of them - have been helpful and they see a long term.
"Now don’t get me wrong, the high streets do need to develop, but there has to be a timescale on which that’s done by.
"At the moment, in my view, councils really don’t care, because they get their business rates whether we’re there or not, because the landlord pays if the store closes."
Full list of Beales stores
The collapse comes as department stores in particular have suffered hardest from the high street downturn.
House of Fraser fell into administration in 2018, before it was snapped up by Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group - formerly Sports Direct.
Mr Ashley subsequently described how the department store’s finances were "nothing short of terminal in nature".
Debenhams also fell into administration and was rescued by its lenders, leading to 19 stores closing this month.
John Lewis suffered a tough Christmas too, with the company warning that a bonus for the employee-owned business could be scrapped this year.
The retailer also sacked its managing director, Paula Nickolds, earlier this month.
Mothercare also shut its doors for the final time a week ago, closing all 79 remaining stores after the firm’s UK division went bust.