About 140 shop workers could lose their jobs after the East of England Co-op said it would close four department stores in Norfolk and Essex.
They are in Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Clacton-on-Sea and Witham. The Co-op said it is actively looking for other businesses to take over the premises.
Chief executive Richard Samson said: "This decision to close the stores has not been taken lightly.
"They have under-performed and have not been profitable for some time."
He said: "The current economic downturn has brought this matter to a head.
"We are now proposing to take action to reduce the impact these losses have on other areas of our business."
The four shops are among 13 department stores owned by the Co-op in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.
Overall it has more than 200 outlets and employs 5,000 people.
Unions said workers could be offered jobs in other Co-op shops or transferred to any new company which might take over the four department stores.
Stuart Sharman, who is the Norfolk and North Suffolk official from the shop workers union Usdaw, said: "We have negotiated an enhanced redundancy claim so it's not the bog-standard statutory payment.
"So it goes up from £4,000 to £11,000 which is quite a substantial amount of money."
Mr Samson said: "We are giving support and guidance to our store colleagues who are affected by the proposals and appreciate how difficult this will be for them."
Investment of significant sums of money is planned for other areas of the business particularly food retailing where stores are performing well, Mr Samson said.