Department store chain Harris Scarfe has been placed in voluntary administration and is expected to be sold, the announcement coming as a shock to workers.
The company has 66 stores across Victoria, Tasmania, NSW, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the ACT, after starting as a hardware business in Adelaide in 1849.
Trading will continue over Christmas with the chain's 1800 staff to be paid by receivers Deloitte Restructuring Services.
Deloitte partner Vaughan Strawbridge said he was confident there was more than sufficient assets to meet all employees' entitlements.
The receivers intend to sell the business as a going concern and save the jobs of as many people as possible.
"Harris Scarfe is a longstanding retail institution," Mr Strawbridge said.
"We will be making every effort to secure a future for the business and intend to commence an immediate sale of business process."
The SDA retail union said it would file a dispute with the Fair Work Commission over a failure by Harris Scarfe to consult before Wednesday's announcement.
"This announcement has come without warning and employees are shocked and will be very concerned as they head into Christmas," SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer said.
He said the union would also seek urgent consultations with the receivers to secure a guarantee on the payment of all entitlements.
Harris Scarfe was recently bought by private equity firm Allegro Funds.
Mr Dwyer said what had happened so quickly raised questions over the long-term interest of such firms in the retail industry.
Harris Scarfe retails bed linen, kitchenware, homewares, electrical appliances and men's and women's clothing and has annual sales of about $380 million.
As the administration process continues, the group will honour all gift cards and lay-bys in full.
Australian Associated Press