Honoka‘a's slow-paced main street belies the town's former importance as the third-largest town in the Hawaiian Islands, after Honolulu and Hilo. Once a major hub for the dominant cattle and sugar industries, it was forced to reinvent itself when those industries crashed. By the time Honokaʻa Sugar Company processed its last harvest in 1993, the town had dwindled in size and was struggling to find new economic niches. Eventually, new farmers found success with niche edibles, such as the Hamakua mushrooms now prized by gourmet chefs.
Today Honoka‘a town remains a lively, if tiny, hub, as the only actual town along the Hamakua Coast. It serves the rural residents and farmers of Pa‘auilo and Ahualoa, as well as tourists on their way to Waipi‘o Valley, 10 miles west. The town's retro buildings have a jaunty western vibe, which bursts into full glory during Honoka‘a Western Week.