AROUND 500 jobs are set to be lost within seven weeks under plans to close more than half the stores in the Beales chain.

Administrators have not said how many of those cuts will be in the flagship Bournemouth store, which headed the list of closures they revealed late last Friday.

Talks are continuing in an effort to save the rest of the business and all the shops are continuing to trade for now.

Administrators at KPMG said efforts to find a buyer for the entire chain of 23 stores had failed.

Nigel Hedges, a Bournemouth town centre trader and Conservative councillor, said his business Bourne Engraving had started as a concession in Beales in 1952.

He was one of several members of his family to work in the store.

“We always thought Beales was sacrosanct, immutable, a shining jewel in a silver sea,” he said.

He said it would have been hard for BCP Council to agree to calls for a reduction in the store’s crippling £440,000-a-year business rates bill on the Bournemouth site. But he said the authority had been keen for the shop to survive.

“The council spent £600,000 on Beale Place to create a wonderful place of peace and quiet for people to stop and enjoy the shops that have now closed. It’s a tragedy,” he said.

Helena Hudson, managing director of Real Eating Company which has a cafe in Bournemouth’s Yelverton Road, said: “Beales in Bournemouth is a close neighbour and its closure will undoubtedly have a negative impact on footfall.

“I’m sure many local traders will be anxiously watching their sales over the coming weeks and months and reviewing whether Bournemouth city centre is still a viable place to run a high street business.”

Town centre councillor Mike Greene said; “It is very disappointing. I am still hoping something can be done and I hope the council is doing everything it can.”

He added: “We will be a poorer town centre without Beales there. I hope that there will be a last minute rescue or something will be born out of the ashes.

“We are keen to listen and help where we can but the council administration has not involved us at all as Bournemouth town centre councillors.”

Former mayor Phil Stanley-Watts said: “It’s a very sad occasion and I just hope something can be done to save the store. “

He knew Frank Beale, the last member of the Beale family to serve on Bournemouth council.

Mr Stanley-Watts said of the store: “It’s a part of Bournemouth borough’s heritage which could be lost forever.”

Beales has been an institution in Bournemouth since John Elmes Beale opened the original shop on the site in 1881.

Perhaps its most ex-member of staff is platinum-selling singer-songwriter Al Stewart, who worked in its linen department straight after leaving school.