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Furniture and fashion chain Laura Ashley has collapsed into administration as the coronavirus outbreak continues to put pressure on retailers.

The firm is to close almost half of its 147 UK stores, putting as many as 721 jobs at risk.

But 77 shops will remain open as the business tries to find a buyer.

Last week, Laura Ashley warned it would be forced to call in the administrators as it struggled to borrow more money.

The firm said the coronavirus outbreak “had an immediate and significant impact on trading”.

Laura Ashley has been struggling for years and had been trying to put together a rescue package before the coronavirus outbreak. It was hoping to secure £15m before the end of this month to keep it going.

But the business effectively ran out of time and options.

The coronavirus outbreak had had a significant impact on trading at its 147 stores and put paid to any final chance of deal.

“Like many other retailers Laura Ashley has been hit hard by market headwinds and weaker consumer spending,” said Zelf Hussain, one of the PwC partners handling the administration.

“For a retail sector already under severe pressure, the current environment driven by Covid-19 is unprecedented.”

He said Laura Ashley’s remaining 77 outlets would remain open, although he noted that could change as the coronavirus pandemic continues to force shops to shut.

The crisis has led Debenhams to temporarily close all of its UK stores over concerns about the safety of its customers and staff. Meanwhile, rival department store John Lewis has also said it will close its doors for the first time in its 155-year history.

Other store closures include:

  • HMV: The British music retailer will close stores temporarily from Sunday
  • Arcadia Group: The group, which includes Topshop and Miss Selfridge, closed all of its stores on Friday until further notice
  • New Look: The clothing store shut its 500 UK stores on Saturday
  • Kurt Geiger: Its 55 shoe shops across the UK and Ireland stopped trading on Saturday
  • River Island: All of its clothing stores across the UK and Ireland are closed until further notice

But electronics retailer Dixons Carphone has lobbied the government to be considered an “essential retailer”, which means it would not be forced to shut its stores if other shops are forced to close.

Halfords has also tried to convince the government that it should be allowed to stay open, according to Sky News, while the Guardian has reported that WH Smith has made similar appeals.

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