A department store group concentrated in English market towns has struck a £7.5m deal with a co-operative society to take over 19 branches.
Bournemouth-based JE Beales will become a 32-store group in a deal with the Anglia Regional Co-operative Society.
Anglia stores are in Cambridgeshire, Cleveland, Durham, Essex, Norfolk, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Lincolnshire, Notts and Yorkshire.
Both firms and a union believe the deal will bring benefits and job security.
About 830 store workers, and Peterborough head office staff, will transfer to Beales. The company's chief executive, Tony Brown, said it was a "transformational deal for both businesses".
Beales had planned to grow by one or two branches a year, but he said the opportunity arose as the Anglia Regional Co-operative Society (Arcs) wanted to refocus its business away from department stores.
Strong commercial sense
"This is a plan for the long-term, so I'm not concerned about the current trading environment," he said.
"We are a market town operator, not in the big cities, and people will be shopping locally more than ever before, because of the price of petrol."
Anglia is providing upfront financing, with terms that will see it receive the money back over the next few years.
It has also agreed to provide financial support for some stores to help Beales return them to profitability.
Beales aims to rebrand the stores over the next two years.
Stores being sold are at Abingdon, Beccles, Bishop Auckland, Chipping Norton, Cinderford, Diss, Harrogate, Keighley, King's Lynn, Lowestoft, Mansfield, Peterborough, Redcar, Saffron Walden, Skipton, Skegness, Spalding, St Neots and Wisbech.
The agreement does not include the Westgate department stores in Scunthorpe, Hartlepool, Blyth and March, which will remain with Arcs.
Welcome from union
Beales trades under its name at eight stores, in Bedford, Bournemouth, Horsham, Kendal, Poole, Tonbridge, Winchester and Worthing.
The remainder trade under individual names - Broadbents & Boothroyds of Southport, Denners of Yeovil, Whitakers in Bolton and Rochdale and Robbs of Hexham.
Arcs chief executive John Chillcott said: "Combining the respective store portfolios into one enlarged group makes strong commercial sense for both parties.
"It also improves job security and opportunities for the 900 staff employed in the Westgate stores covered by the deal."
Sharon Ainsworth, national officer for retail union Usdaw, said: "The announcement has obviously come as a shock to members and it will no doubt cause some degree of uncertainty and worry.
"However, Usdaw believes the deal could be in the best interests of staff and may help secure the long-term future of the business.
"Beales is a dedicated department store company with over 100 years of history and experience behind them and they have clearly been looking for further opportunities for growth."