Published: 08:00, 25 April 2016
| Updated: 08:02, 25 April 2016
Troubled homeware and fashion retailer BHS has fallen into administration today, putting 11,000 jobs at risk.
The move has put its 164 stores under threat, including shops in Ashford, Gravesend, Hempstead Valley, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells, as well as Bexleyheath and Bromley.
The group will continue to trade as usual while a buyer is sought, administrators Duff & Phelps said.
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It has struggled against discount fashion rivals and online shopping. It also has a significant pensions deficit.
The company was sold to city investors Retail Acquisitions for £1 last year by Arcadia Group, owned by the billionaire retail entrepreneur Sir Philip Green, who also owns Topshop.
The business has already reduced its presence in Kent, closing its store at Canterbury’s Whitefriars shopping centre in January 2014.
Its troubles have drawn comparisons with high street giant Woolworths, which fell into administration and ceased trading in 2008, costing thousands of jobs.
Any collapse would be a blow to town centres like Gravesend, which has already suffered from the closure of Marks & Spencer in 2014, next door to its BHS department store.
The building has remained empty ever since. This week, it was still for sale with commercial property consultants CBRE.
The four-floor building has two trading floors and is on the market for £3 million freehold, or a 15-year lease at £280,000 a year.
The company is also advertising the lease for the former Phones 4U shop at £40,000 a year.
It also closed in September 2014 after the company went into administration.
Ann McNamara of Betsham Road, Swanscombe, said: "We shop at BHS occasionally and at Christmas it's always packed. We're a bit shocked.
"It's a great shame - we've already lost Marks and Spencer. Price-wise there's no competition with Primark."
Linda Glover, 50, of Cross Lane East, Gravesend, added: "It doesn't surprise me. They needed to modernise.
"It doesn't surprise me. They needed to modernise..." - Linda Glover, Gravesend
"As soon as M&S closed down, I knew it would be the next one.
"In there you've got Dorothy Perkins, Wallace - just bits and pieces, little tiny shops that have integrated all in one.
"I've worked in Woolworths - I know what it's like for staff, a kick in the teeth.
"There's not a lot of jobs out there at the moment. M&S was supposed to be filled by B&M but it's all talk."
Karen Clarke, 42, of Cornwall Road, Dartford, said: "I've never shopped at BHS."You've got Primark, a lot of shops that are cheaper or just as good in my opinion. I just tend to stick to what I know."