THE beleaguered Oak Mall has suffered a huge blow after one of its most popular and longest-serving shops closed with immediate effect.

Fashion retailer M&Co is the latest casualty in a series of closures in the shopping centre.

A total of 13 people will lose their jobs as a result.

The high street giant, which started out as Mackays, has been a stalwart in the centre for many years and has welcomed hundreds of thousands of customers through its doors.

It had only reopened on July 13 following the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

M&Co said that the closure follows the completion of a financial restructuring exercise to save 2,200 jobs.

Owner Mackays Stores Ltd took the necessary step of appointing Deloitte as administrators in April.

The administration process will see the estate reduced from 265 to 218 stores and around 380 redundancies from a total workforce of 2,600.

Bosses have expressed their 'enormous regret' at being forced to close 47 stores as part of the process, with the large two-level Greenock store shutting with immediate effect.

M&Co chief executive Andy McGeoch said: "As everyone knows, retail has been one of the sectors hardest-hit by Covid-19, with long-term shop closures and social distancing having a hugely negative impact.

"Like many of the UK’s best-known high street names, we’ve been facing up to a number of underlying business challenges in the current retail environment, which have been exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19.

"Being forced to close all our stores for several months meant a huge financial hit.

"We reopened most stores in June and have been exploring every possible option but it was obvious that the business, as previously structured, would remain under severe pressure from the ongoing challenges of Covid-19.

"It quickly became clear that best way to save most jobs and most stores was to enter administration, with a new company acquiring the assets of the old business, and this process has now been finalised.

"The most difficult part of this process is undoubtedly seeing colleagues in stores and at our Glasgow and London operations leaving the business.

"It’s a terrible situation for them and I’m desperately sorry that we couldn’t come up with a viable plan which would have saved all the jobs."

In May, M&Co was one of the stores impacted by the closure of a section of the Oak Mall due to concerns over the safety of the ageing A78 flyover, which sits over its roof.

The fashion retailer was unable to trade until Transport Scotland engineers carried out a full assessment of the site.

M&Co is the latest in a line of big names to bring the curtain down on their time in Greenock over the last couple of years, including Marks & Spencer, Burton, Dorothy Perkins, H Samuel and RS McColl.

Inverclyde shoppers are now concerned that the end of M&Co's time in the centre, coupled with the raft of closures, is another nail in the coffin for the retail complex.

Last year, the Tele exclusively revealed that the centre had been put up for sale for £14m.

The Mall was put on the market by its Luxembourg-based owners, Lunar Greenock Sarl, for less than half of the £35.7m they paid for it 2014.

Centre bosses also applied for planning permission to demolish the eastern end of the centre to make way for 123 flats.

The application was initially rejected by Inverclyde Council.

The Tele approached the Oak Mall several times for comment on the M&Co closure but received no response.