Of all the pests that can infest a building, silverfish are one of the ones that often cause the least concern. After all, they don't bite or sting like some pests, they don't instil fear like spiders and they won't lead to hygiene issues in the way that cockroaches or rodents will.
But that doesn't mean you should just ignore them, and that's particularly true if you own a bookshop.
The problem is that silverfish eat a lot of starch. And since paper contains significant amounts of starch, that can spell disaster when your business revolves around books.
Signs of a silverfish infestation
Silverfish are nocturnal, so if you're not around in the evenings, you might not see them. Occasionally, they might scuttle across the floor. They're small bugs with a long body that tapers to a point at the tail end. They look a bit like flat, silvery earwigs.
Even if you don't see a silverfish, there are telltale signs that they're about. They shed their outer skin, so you might see some of these left scattered about. They also leave small, distinctive yellow stains as they go about their business.
In a bookshop, the sign you don't want to see is damaged books. If you find any books which have been noticeably eaten away, both at the edges and middles of pages, it's likely you have silverfish if you can't identify another cause. They can also eat the top layer of hardback covers, leaving white marks on the surface.
If there's a particularly damp, dark area in your shop, like a basement, this is where most of the silverfish will likely be hiding during the day. If you look there, you'll probably spot some of them so you'll know for certain.
What to do about it
Before you do anything else, it's a good idea to protect your stock by putting books into tightly-sealed plastic boxes. It might make selling inconvenient, but it's preferable to the lost money if they get destroyed. If you're not able to store all your books this way, at least protect the most valuable ones.
Silverfish like damp environments, so deal with any excess moisture you have by checking for leaks, increasing ventilation and investing in one or two dehumidifiers. You should also keep the ground free of crumbs and dust by vacuuming regularly.
If this doesn't work, or if the infestation is particularly bad, you should call in a professional pest control company to get rid of them for you.