Going-out-of-business sales started Friday at Alco Stores, a chain of nearly 200 general-merchandise discount retailers that cater to small communities in America’s heartland.

The impending closure of the stores-which sell everything from appliances and furniture to clothing and groceries-is likely to severely limit the shopping options for Alco customers. Most of the stores are located in towns of fewer than 5,000 residents, and Alco specifically targets areas not already serviced by Wal-Mart and other larger retailers. (As evidence of Alco’s small-town vibe, Bankruptcy Beat noticed that 22 of its stores are located on a city’s Main Street.)

The 113-year-old business sought bankruptcy protection last month with plans to liquidate if it didn’t find a buyer willing to keep the stores open. This week, Alco said a sale didn’t pan out, and it won a bankruptcy court’s approval to go through with the going-out-of-business plan.

In a Friday press release, liquidators said more than $260 million worth of inventory, fixtures and equipment will be up for sale. The liquidators say they expect to keep daily essentials “fully stocked for a limited time” and that they’ll be discounting everything on store shelves.

Alco’s 198 stores are located in 23 states, including Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado. The company blamed its financial trouble on the effects of what it termed a “lingering economic slowdown” had on its customers, many of whom are living on fixed or low incomes in rural areas.

The store closures put 3,000 employee jobs on the line.

In posts on Alco’s Facebook page, a few unhappy customers lamented the loss of the stores. “Sooooo very sad to hear that our Alco Store is closing,” wrote one. “I shopped there several times a week!!!!!”

-Katy Stech contributed to this article.

Write to Sara Randazzo at sara.randazzo@wsj.com. Follower her on Twitter at @sara_randazzo