The fate of more than 9,000 staff at Peacocks will be decided this week, as the high street's biggest administration since Woolworths in 2008 comes to a head.
KPMG, the administrator to Peacocks, is set to conclude the sale of the discount fashion retailer as early as Wednesday. But even if the 600-plus store chain is rescued, hundreds of unprofitable shops are likely to be closed by the new owner.
Up to three bidders, including Alshair Fiyaz, the Pakistani business tycoon, were this weekend still in the running to acquire Peacocks, which collapsed with debts of £240m.
Mr Fiyaz has teamed up with the Danish investment fund Solstra Capital and submitted a second-round bid on 6 February.
Sources have suggested that a minimum of 200 stores could be closed as part of any rescue deal, and there remains the grim possibility that all bidders could walk away. The property firm Jones Lang LaSalle has been lined up to advise on the disposal of surplus stores after the sale of Peacocks.
The fashion chain, which is based in Cardiff, operates 563 stores and 48 concessions in the UK. It employs 9,350 staff, although KPMG made 249 head office employees redundant on 19 January, the day after Peacocks fell into administration.
The accountant continues to trade the shops. A Peacocks store close to Old Street Tube station in London was fully stocked on Friday afternoon, although it was running discounts of up to 70 per cent on some items.
Speculation has also centred on Matalan's intentions regarding Peacocks, whose chairman is Allan Leighton the former head of the supermarket chain Asda.
While Matalan typically operates much bigger stores than Peacocks in out-of-town retail parks, its founder, John Hargreaves, was allegedly spotted at Peacocks' Cardiff headquarters on 3 February. However, his intentions are unclear, and Matalan has its own debt issues to address.
All parties declined to comment.