IRVINE, Calif. (AP) _ Builders Emporium, the largest home-improvement chain in Southern California, may end up using its last sheets of plywood to board up its own windows.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Collins & Aikman Group Inc., which owns the chain, said Tuesday it will shut down Builders Emporium, laying off 4,300 workers.

All 82 of the chain's California retail stores and its 15 stores in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas will be closed by the end of October.

''This pains me both professionally and personally, but given the intense competition from warehouse stores and the deterioration of the California economy, the company had little choice,'' H. Michael Hecht, president of Builders Emporium, said in a statement.

In part, the do-it-yourself chain fell victim to the housing market that helped it grow. Following two years of losses, the chain was reeling from Southern California's recession, a slump in the housing industry and competition from other home improvement chains.

Founded in 1946 by Si L. Bercutt, a Russian immigrant, the company grew from a single hardware store in the San Fernando Valley.

Builders Emporium changed hands several times and enjoyed some of its highest profits in the 1980s, after it was purchased in 1978 by Wickes Cos.

Wickes was bought at the end of 1988 by two New York investment banking firms, which later changed Wickes' name to Collins & Aikman. Last year, Builders Emporium's sales totaled $500 million.