The Co-operative Group is to either sell or close all of its 36 department stores after the business made heavy losses last year.
STORES SET TO CLOSE
to close in February 2006
Ten stores, the majority in Scotland, are to shut next February with the loss of 141 full-time and part-time jobs.
The group is looking for a buyer for its remaining stores, which have 491 full-time and 379 part-time staff.
The Co-op said the stores, scattered throughout England and Scotland, were a "major drain" on its resources.
The business lost £4m last year.
The stores - which sell a wide range of items ranging from fashion and home furnishing to electrical goods - have struggled in the face of fierce High Street competition and the downturn in the retail environment.
Any of the remaining 26 stores which have not been sold by the beginning of 2007 will be closed.
The Co-op said it was in discussions with Anglia Regional Co-operative Society about selling an undisclosed number of outlets.
Paul Hewitt, the Co-op's deputy chief executive, said the business had had a history of poor performance.
"This was a very difficult decision to make but at the end of the day, a necessary one," he said.
"We operate in fiercely competitive markets and this business is a continuing major drain on our resources."
Union officials said they would work with the Co-op in an effort to save as many jobs as possible.
"We will be urging the Co-op Group and any new owners to do everything they can to retain the highly skilled workers," said Sharon Ainsworth, national officer of the shopworkers union Usdaw.
The Co-op - which is owned by its members and does not pay dividends - suffered a decline in sales and profits last year.
It warned that its individual businesses - spanning financial services, banking, food retailing, property and funeral care - were failing to exploit the combined strengths of the organisation.
The Co-op is cutting 600 jobs at its Manchester headquarters as part of a plan to save £50m a year.
The Co-op can trace its roots back to the 1840s when the first retail co-operative was opened in Rochdale, Lancashire.