Shoppers flocked to Woolworths stores on Thursday at the start of closing-down sales, emptying shelves and snapping up bargains.

Huge queues built up at some of the chain’s 813 stores after the sale was announced by administrator Deloitte following the failure to find a buyer for the struggling firm. Thousands of shopworkers face the axe.

Deloitte warned some stores could close before the end of December if no offers for the business emerged, but there were fears some staff will be laid off before Christmas.

Huge signs exclaiming Store Closing and All Stock Reduced were placed in store windows and business was brisk, with toys, sweets and electrical items among the goods being snapped up.

Many shoppers said they would be sad to see Woolworths go out of business, but it didn’t stop them filling their bags with reduced products.

Queues at Woolworths in The Pallasades shopping centre in Birmingham city centre stretched the whole length of the store.

Regular Woolworths shopper Linda Morrall, 55, said she had fond memories of the store, having worked as a Saturday girl in Woolworths in Oldbury, when she was 15.

She said: “It’s very sad. I think it will be missed quite honestly, even though people say it was neither one thing or the other. The sales are good but I think it will be sorely missed. It has always been a family shop.”

Woolworths has been in business for almost a century but was forced to call in administrators two weeks ago as debts and losses mounted in a worsening high street climate.

The complexity of the group’s leases and difficulty in restocking the business after Christmas has reportedly put off interested parties.

But rival retailers are understood to have agreed to buy hundreds of store leases - including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Iceland - as many of the group’s outlets have planning permission to sell food. Some employees could subsequently find jobs with the new owners.

* Tesco said it will slash prices by 50 per cent in the latest round of discounting to hit the retail sector.

The supermarket chain said the sale would focus on Christmas essentials and gifts.

Britain’s biggest grocer said it was cutting prices early on around 1,000 items in response to customers’ reluctance to purchase items which would later be discounted.