Closing down sale posters have been placed in the windows of brands owned by Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group.
The group, which owns Edinburgh Woollen Mill, Peacocks and Jaeger brands, said it was intending to call in administrators on Friday, putting around 24,000 jobs across the firm at risk.
The notice of intention to appoint administrators gives the company 10 days’ breathing space before it can file for insolvency.
Owned by Philip Day, the Cumbria-based billionaire, the group said that the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted on sales across the business.
Stores are continuing to trade, but large red and white posters announcing a closing down sale have appeared in many branches, including Edinburgh Woollen Mill in Keswick and Penrith and Peacocks in Penrith.
The company said it had received a number of expressions of interest for various parts of the group and they were being assessed along with all other options.
At the end of theprocess the group will appoint FRP Advisory as administrators who will carry out the necessary restructuring of the wider business.
A spokesman for FRP said: “Our team is working with the directors of a number of Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group subsidiaries to explore all options for the future of its retail brands.”
Steve Simpson, chief executive of Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group, said: “Like every retailer, we have found the past seven months extremely difficult.
“This situation has grown worse in recent weeks as we have had to deal with a series of false rumours about our payments and trading which have impacted our credit insurance.
“Traditionally, EWM has always traded with strong cash reserves and a conservative balance sheet but these stories and the reduction in credit insurance – against the backdrop of the initial lockdown, current local lockdowns, and the second wave of COVID-19 reducing footfall have made normal trading impossible.
“As directors we have a duty to the business, our staff, our customers and our creditors to find the very best solution in this brutal environment.
“We have applied to court today for a short breathing space to assess our options before moving to appoint administrators.
“Through this process I hope and believe we will be able to secure the best future for our businesses, but there will inevitably be significant cuts and closures as we work our way through this.”