House of Fraser has called in administrators after failing to reach a deal with creditors.
The chain department store has 59 stores, including 31 already earmarked for closure, and employs 17,500 people.
EY has been appointed to carry out the administration. The accountancy firm has been contacted for comment.
Alex Williamson, chief executive of House of Fraser, said: “We are hopeful that the current negotiations will shortly be concluded.
”An acquisition of the 169-year-old retail business will see House of Fraser regain stability, certainty and financial strength.
“In the two weeks since the Cenbest and C Banner transaction ceased, the directors have brought forward a number of potential buyers and the group’s financial advisors have run a comprehensive M&A process to identify and then develop other third party interest that has culminated in the senior secured creditors leading negotiations with parties at a critical pace.”
Retail billionaire Mike Ashley is reported to be close to making an offer for the group, and could reach a deal with administrators as early as Friday morning, according to Sky News.
Ian Benjamin, partner at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, told the Independent that if the Sports Direct founder goes for an administration sale “he might cherry pick the stores he wants to keep open”.
Mr Benjamin added: “Given his reputation, he is likely to drive a very hard bargain.”
In a statement, the retailer insisted “significant progress has been made” in reaching a sale of the group’s business and assets.
House of Fraser chairman Frank Slevin said: “This has been an extraordinarily challenging six months in which the business has delivered so many critical elements of the turnaround plan.
“Despite the very recent termination of the transaction between Cenbest and C Banner, I am confident House of Fraser is close to securing its future.”