BHS staff in Oxford have been told the store is to close.

Employees at the store on the corner of Queen Street and St Ebbe’s said they have been given a letter indicating it will close in May.

They added the announcement was made on Monday but last night the chain was refusing to make any comment. Staff say they were told they may be able to transfer to one of the company’s sister chains, such as Dorothy Perkins or Top Shop.

One shop assistant, who did not want to be named, said staff were given a letter on Monday saying the store was expected to close.

She said: “We were all given a letter. I think the store will shut in a couple of months, around the beginning of May.

“We have been told that we might be able to get jobs at other companies owned by Arcadia, like Top Shop and Burton.”

When BHS opened the 35,000sq ft store in Queen Street in October 1998, it employed 140 people, including staff at its 148-seat restaurant.

It has continued to be among the biggest stores in the city ever since.

Fears have been raised that the announcement relayed by staff might be connected with the £400m Westgate development, which is due to begin later this year.

Oxfordshire Town Chamber Network director Keith Slater said the news was not “a total surprise”.

Retail consultant Mr Slater said: “BHS has been going through a bad time and has struggled against competition from shops like Primark, which in this store’s case was only around the corner. In the short-term, this will have a very negative effect on Oxford, but it is a city with high demand for retail space with a lot of retailers looking at it at the moment.

“The empty shop should be filled pretty quickly, assuming rents aren’t too high.

“The news about Westgate has put the area back on the map again so I would not have thought there will be a great problem in finding someone to move in.”

Spokesman for city retail group Rox, Graham Jones, said: “If they are moving out of Oxford, perhaps they are worried that building work at Westgate could harm their sales.”

BHS customers yesterday expressed surprise at what staff say they were told.

June Gray, 81, from North Oxford, said: “It’s a big shame. I have gone in there quite often since it first opened and the staff have always been really lovely.

“I think it is competition from newer shops.”

Kamal Hossain, 35, from Cowley, said: “I have lived here for almost five years and I like shopping there, so I will be sad to see it go.

“My wife and children shop for clothes there because it is good value.”

But Roy Mayhew, 70, from Cowley, said the news was only to be expected.

He said: “I’m not surprised with the economic climate being the way it is. A lot of big stores are suffering and Oxford is quite a middle class area – BHS would probably find it hard to compete with shops like M&S.”